A giant in his field: A global tribute to the life & legacy of child welfare pioneer, Edward Zigler

By Bekir B. Artukoglu, Michael F. McCarthy, and N. Shemrah Fallon, ECPC News

Professor Edward Zigler. Photo: Courtesy The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy
Professor Edward Zigler. Photo: Courtesy The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy

Nearly three years ago, world scholars paid their last respects to Edward Zigler, a notable clinical psychologist and trailblazer in early childhood development, developmental science, and social policy as well as a champion of children’s rights. Today, scholars carry the torch lit by Zigler to areas across the globe on behalf of the children and families whom they benefit and serve as research scientists, practitioners, educators, program developers, and policymakers. The paper Pathways to a more peaceful and sustainable world: The transformative power of children in families, featured in this article is a compilation of their career stories and achievements. It is one of a selection that will appear in an upcoming 2021 special journal print issue of Development and Psychopathology, devoted to the late Edward Zigler.

►READ Pathways to a more peaceful and sustainable world: The transformative power of children in families, Development and Psychopathology (published online ahead of print).

From 1987 to 2019, Edward Zigler served as Professor Emeritus of Psychology; Emeritus Faculty; and Director, Emeritus, The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development & Social Policy at Yale University. Zigler spent most of his life advocating for and helping marginalized and disadvantaged children. He is most notably remembered for his involvement in launching the Head Start program in the U.S. in 1965, which has since served tens of millions of children.

He was widely known for being a firm advocate for the development of the ‘whole child’. He once explained,

“There’s much more to life than one’s intelligence score. To be a decent human being. To have some character.” He argued that a child’s “emotions and personality are just as important as I.Q.”

First Lady Lady Bird Johnson visits a Head Start class in 1966. By White House Photograph Office, Robert L. Knudsen. — This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 596401., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4192751
First Lady Lady Bird Johnson visits a Head Start class in 1966. By White House Photograph Office, Robert L. Knudsen.

In addition to his impressive academic career, Zigler was an influential advisor on child-related policies across several U.S. presidencies, including Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

►LEARN more about Edward Zigler, Ph.D.

Following is a detailed synopsis of the article, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, that was led by Dr. James F. Leckman, Neison Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology in the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine.

Dr. Leckman joins with authors from around the globe to honor the late Edward Zigler — a colleague, mentor, champion, and friend.

In loving memory of Edward Zigler…

Pathways to a more peaceful and sustainable world: The transformative power of children in families

Dr. James F. Leckman (L) joins with scholars from around the globe in honor of Edward Zigler, founding father of Head Start and trailblazer in early childhood development, developmental science, and social policy. Photo: Courtesy, Maria Conceição do Rosário.

The importance of Early Childhood Development

The importance of early childhood development (ECD) is well established. As a field, scholars and practitioners in psychology, psychiatry, neurology, pediatrics, public health, economics, education, and related disciplines are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of ECD in setting the stage for the emergence of neuropsychiatric disorders. Beyond psychopathology, it is also clear that events early in a child’s life can directly impact their physical health, learning, and well-being and the degree to which a child is able to reach their full developmental and economic potential (Black et al, 2017; Britto et al., 2017; Daelmans et al., 2017).

As a world community, policymakers, civil society, media, and advocates are also becoming increasingly aware that the early years of life can set the foundation not only for individual children but also for the societies in which they live.

This article recommends four actions consistent with Edward Zigler’s determined efforts to “serve the best interests of children and families in the United States through the provision of universal, high-quality ECD programs” (Zigler & Styfco, 2002). Action items include:

  1. Expanding political will and funding through advocacy for the young child related to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
  2. Creating a policy environment that supports the nurturing care of young children
  3. Building capacity to promote ECD through multi-sectoral coordination
  4. Ensuring accountability for early child development services, increasing research, and fostering global and regional leadership and action.

The authors point out the timely nature of this work by reminding the reader that the world community has endorsed ECD programs as a transformative element in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals approved by the United Nations (UN), General Assembly, in 2015.

The authors highlight the importance of the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), a global alliance of over one hundred organizations and networks that are committed to improving the lives of young children from conception to five years of age.

Sustainable and high-quality ECD programs across the globe are a path to a more peaceful and sustainable world

Sadly, more than 420 million children globally live in areas affected by conflict. Indeed, UNICEF in 2018 estimated that 29 million babies were born into conflict-affected areas, and this number is likely to be even higher now. The UN also estimates that every five seconds, somewhere in the world, a child is killed by violence.

It is also clear that sustainable and high-quality ECD programs have the potential to contribute to reducing the racial and economic inequality that is present in all countries of the world, including the United States.

The authors highlight several initiatives that are currently underway that seek to develop and implement promising ECD programs.

Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

The Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) was founded in 2013 to act to convince policymakers and the global community that children and families can be agents of change for peace.

Professor Edward Zigler. Photo: Courtesy The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy
Professor Edward Zigler. Photo: Courtesy The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy

Many components of the ECPC reflect Zigler’s ideology and legacy of helping children. For example, Zigler advised his students that entering the child development field, whether through policy or practice, is a lifelong commitment. He once explained, “I teach child development and social policy as an undergraduate course, and I tell my students, ‘Look, on any of these issues, if you don’t want to work on it for thirty years, don’t start.’” The fields of social policy and child development are ever-evolving as new needs and challenges constantly emerge when trying to support our children and families. This ultimately commands each generation to not only have practitioners and policy specialists that are committed to helping all children adequately develop to their full potential but also mentor and produce a new generation of advocates to continue the work.

The ECPC embodies Zigler’s lifelong commitment to children and seeks to not just carry on his legacy but also pass it on to a new generation of leaders by creating “an inclusive movement for peace, social cohesion, social justice, and the prevention of violence through using early childhood development strategies to enable the world community to advance peace, security, and development.”

The authors further highlight several programs that seek to advance social cohesion and peacebuilding through ECD and parenting programs:

Mother Child Education Foundation (AÇEV) (Turkey, Lebanon, Brazil, Saudi Arabia)

The Mother Child Education Foundation (AÇEV), based in Turkey, has developed and implemented the Mother-Child Education Program (MOCEP) in more than 14 countries. The authors highlight these initiatives in Lebanon, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia.

►READ The promise of parent-child education programs on improving parenting practices and reducing stress in conflict-exposed families. Yale School of Medicine (YSM) News, (2020, April 30).

The Arab Resource Collective (ARC) MOCEP research team, Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Courtesy ARC.
The Arab Resource Collective (ARC) MOCEP research team, Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Courtesy ARC.

Lebanon. The Arab Resource Collective (ARC) implemented a locally adapted version of MOCEP in Lebanon from 2009 to 2016. In 2013, the UBS Optimus Foundation, The Open Road Alliance, AÇEV, and Yale University provided funding to support a pilot randomized clinical trial (RCT) to evaluate the impact of MOCEP on vulnerable populations in Beirut. The participants were families with young children in three communities in Beirut including two districts that have a large number of Palestinian refugees (Ponguta et al, 2019, Ponguta et al, 2020, Hein et al, 2020). Remarkably, this initiative has recently been awarded the 2020 Norbert and Charlotte Rieger Award for Scientific Achievement by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Given the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the day-to-day challenges that families are facing in the region, Dr. Ghassan Issa, who directs ARC, and his team have now developed a more condensed parent training program, the “Health, Early Learning, and Protection Parenting Programme (HEPPP).” HEPPP is currently being scaled up following an evaluation of a recent pilot implementation in both Lebanon and Jordan.

Importantly, ARC also now hosts the Arab Network for Early Childhood Development (ANECD). ANECD is the Middle East regional hub for ECDAN and it seeks to ensure the development potential of all young children in all Arab countries through the production and dissemination of knowledge, sharing of best practices, and advocating for policies that support the care and development of young children.

Following the recent devastating explosions in Beirut, ANECD and ARC are now providing the immediate and life-saving aid young children and families need in a country already facing acute socio-economic difficulties and a health system compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

(To support the ARC and its efforts, please consider making a donation.)

Brazil. The authors then describe the Mother Support Program (MSP), which is the Brazilian adaptation of AÇEV’s MOCEP in the city of Embu das Artes, located in the metropolitan area of São Paulo. The team is also working on the implementation of this program for 266 families living in very vulnerable conditions in the City of Sobral, in the state of Ceará that lies in the northeast region of the country.

Saudi Arabia. MOCEP is also now being implemented in Riyadh, and plans are in place to expand the program to include all 13 regions of Saudi Arabia.

Early Years — the organization for young children (Ireland)

Next, the authors review the history and efforts of the Early Years — the organization for young children, based in Northern Ireland, which endeavored to build and sustain peace and reconciliation even during the worst time of the conflict in this region. Their Media Initiative for Children Respecting Difference Programme (MIFC) for preschool children, their parents, and teachers aim to build a culture of respect for those who are different in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, and disability. This program has been implemented in the Balkans, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

LINKS — National Institute for Health Research — a Global Health Research Group on Early Childhood Development for Peacebuilding

Mama Yeleen research team led by Dr. Yaya Togo (R) (Mali)
Mama Yeleen research team led by Dr. Yaya Togo (R) (Mali)

The authors further highlight LINKS, which is an initiative that aims to support the development and evaluation of ECD pilot programs in societies affected by conflict, including Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. Exemplars of the LINKS Initiative include Mama Yeleen (Mali). The Mama Yeleen program in Mali is an ECD parenting program developed by UNICEF that is being piloted in five locations in Mali and in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Increasing resilience of youth for peaceful and inclusive communities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Next, the authors highlight the tensions among villages that lie on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. They discuss the positive effects of low-cost programs in this region that foster the health and the nutritional needs of young children and support social cohesion and peacebuilding through the formation of culturally and ethnically diverse parenting programs. They are supported by UNICEF, the LINKS initiative, and the Department of International Development in the United Kingdom.

Integrated Early Childhood Development Program (IECD Vietnam). The authors then describe The Integrated Early Childhood Development Program in Vietnam which was launched in 2017 to improve the quality of and access to ECD services for young children and their families. They explain that the overall aim of the IECD program is to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths, eliminate stunting and promote a clean environment, good hygiene, early stimulation, early learning, and holistic parenting, and strengthen social cohesion within the project communities.

Mentoring the next generation of scholars in child development

Pakistani young children and LEAPS youth leader engaging in an education lesson. Photo: Courtesy LEAPS

The final initiative reviewed by the authors is “Mentoring the next generation of scholars in child development. They describe the collaboration of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale, with researchers from Harvard and Aga Khan Universities, to support Youth Leaders for Early Childhood Assuring Children are Prepared for School (LEAPS). This program aims to train, mentor, and empower youth to promote the demand for quality ECD programming in their communities. The authors describe how LEAPS has utilized a cross-generational strategy in Pakistan to support learning and the development of young children and female youth. Assessing the feasibility of implementing LEAPS in target municipalities in Colombia is also now underway.

Next steps

In their closing remarks, the authors underscored the urgent need to expand the evidence that will engage 1) government officials and policy-makers around the globe to invest in ECD, and 2) parenting services and to limit the negative impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on children.

The authors further emphasized the need to address climate change and pollution as part of the ECD programs as young children under 5 years of age are disproportionately impacted by their harmful effects.

Moreover, this special issue article demonstrates that researchers, scholars, practitioners, and organizations across the globe are committed to helping children reach their full developmental potential as well as fostering more peaceful and cohesive societies.

Washtenaw County, Michigan Head Start school in Superior Township. Dwight Burdette, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
Washtenaw County, Michigan Head Start school in Superior Township. Photo: Dwight Burdette | Wikimedia Commons.

Although Edward Zigler may no longer be with us, his legacy and lifelong dedication in helping children get a head start will continue to live on in those inspired by his work, throughout the U.S. and the world, for generations to come.


Britto, P., Hanöz-Penney, S., Ponguta, L., Sunar, D., Issa, G., Hein, S., . . . Leckman, J. (2020). Pathways to a more peaceful and sustainable world: The transformative power of children in families. Development and Psychopathology, 1–12. doi:10.1017/S0954579420000681

About the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

Where all children are the stars of today and leaders of tomorrow!

The ECPC is a global movement of United Nations agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations, academia, practitioners, and the private sector focused on sharing scientific and practice-based evidence on how investment in early childhood development (ECD) can contribute to sustainable peace, social cohesion, and social justice. We recognize that investing in ECD is a powerful and cost-effective strategy for reducing violence, poverty, and exclusion and for building peaceful societies.

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Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC)

We can build a just and peaceful world where all children are the stars of today and leaders of tomorrow.