People feel that child development is not given enough attention in Portugal

First Years, First Priority campaign National Coordinator, Nossa Senhora do Bom Sucesso Foundation (FNSBS) releases a new study on child development in Portugal. The Study on the Perceptions of the Population Living in the City of Lisbon on the Importance of the First Years of Life in Child Development (ages 0-6) was run by the Instituto Superior de Saúde, under the coordination of Professor Fausto Amaro, and Professors Mafalda Duarte and Paula Espírito Santo. The conclusions were presented at the Big Meeting 2.0 organised by FNSBS on 17 October 2023.

Main findings

  • The majority of the population feels that child development still doesn’t deserve significant attention;
  • Only a third of respondents have accurate knowledge of the age at which children’s brain development is greatest (0 to 3 years);
  • Only slightly over half of the respondents recognised the educational role of daycare in the education of children aged 0 to 3. The majority believe that the main role of daycare is to look after children while their parents are at work;
  • At the ages of 3 to 6, kindergarten is more widely recognised for its role in stimulating children;
  • Almost a third of respondents do not consider prolonged exposure to screens to be an obstacle to child development;
  • Nearly half of those surveyed consider it time-consuming to get a specialty consultation in children’s health services;

According to Paula Nanita, member of the FNSBS Executive Board and Executive Director:

“This study helps us to understand how far Portuguese society is from the scientific evidence, which has been known since the beginning of this century, and what the focus of the First Years First Priority campaign should be in order to better sensitise the public and investment and policy makers to the importance of investing in children and their families as a way of helping to build a healthier and more sustainable society.” 

“The first years of life are periods of unique opportunity in the physical, mental and emotional formation of each child, with consequences for well-being, lifelong health, learning and even future employability. Investing in children from birth is essential to reducing inequalities and reversing the generational cycle of poverty.

Main conclusions

was named by 89% of respondents as the biggest obstacle to child development. Situations of conflict and violence in the family (87.7%), parents’ mental health problems (86%), children’s illnesses (85.3%), parents’ stress problems (81.7%), or parents’ chronic or long-term illnesses (78.7%) are also considered to inhibit this development.

Almost two thirds (64.3%) of those interviewed do not correctly know the age at which children’s brains develop the most (0 to 3 years), and more than a quarter (29%) do not consider prolonged exposure to screens to be an obstacle to children’s development.

Only 57.7% recognise the educational role of daycare in the education of children in this age group, and the majority (79.7%) consider that the main function of daycare centres is to look after children while their parents are at work. However, more than three quarters (77.3%) recognize the importance of daycare in stimulating children in their first thousand days of life.

This trend is reversed in the case of kindergartens (for children aged between 3 and 6), where there is a greater consensus (83.3%) on the role they play in stimulating children, although three quarters (74.3%) of those surveyed continue to emphasise their role in looking after children.

The role of preparing children for good school results (69%) or educating them (66.7%) received less attention from those interviewed, although the majority (87%) believe that attending a good nursery or kindergarten can have a positive influence on later results at school.

A good family and social environment is seen by the vast majority (88.3%) as an essential condition for a healthy and happy childhood, but only 5.7% believe that nursery schools or kindergartens contribute to a healthy and happy childhood.

Parents’ time with their children (90.3%) or time spent playing with other children (90%) are seen as favourable factors for children’s development. In this sense, better living conditions (60.7%) and more flexible working hours for parents (55%) are seen as part of the solution for parents to have more time to devote to their children. Nearly half of those surveyed believe that a better situation for children in Portugal depends on measures that support easier working hours for parents (47%) and greater economic support for families (46%).

A large majority of respondents believe that greater attention should be paid to child development (91%) and around a third (35.7%) recognise its importance in shaping more responsible citizens.

In cases where children are in danger and need to be removed from the family, a third of the population surveyed (33%) were unable to identify the best solution.

As far as children’s health is concerned, a large proportion of those surveyed (68.7%) recognise that children’s illnesses have an impact on their health in adulthood, but around half (55%) of those surveyed assumed that it takes too long to get a specialist appointment at the children’s health services.

Study factsheet:

  • Universe: Population living in the city of Lisbon.
  • Sample size: 300 people over the age of 20.
  • Type of sample: Random, stratified by type of parish and proportional to the population of each parish; final selection – gender and age quotas.
  • Estimated error: +/- 6%, with a 95% confidence level.
  • Data collection: By personal interview, carried out at the interviewee’s home, based on a semi-structured questionnaire.
  • Fieldwork: April 29 and 30, 2023.

Read this article in Portuguese on the FNSBS website