The Proximity of Care Framework

The foundation of the Proximity of Care Design Guide is a Framework, developed through intensive research, that enables the holistic consideration of the city systems and their relationship and influence on early childhood development.
Click the framework below to learn about the Dimensions


This dimension considers factors that contribute to a supportive early childhood environment, looking at how to enhance knowledge and support from city authorities, urban and early child development practitioners and community members. Giving children, caregivers and parents a voice in community decision-making and planning is also an important part of this dimension. ​

The goals underlying this dimension are: ​​

  • The economy and community supporting families
  • City leaders prioritising early childhood development
  • Family-friendly city planning and legislation
  • Data management and communications that are age and gender sensitive
Gathering a team comprised of local citizens, nursery teachers, town mayor, municipality workers and designers to advocate for child-friendly cities together ©Ciudad Emergente


Healthy & enriching environment This dimension considers the factors that contribute to a good physical and mental health in the early years, examining how to improve health and development among young children, their caregivers, and pregnant women. ​

The goals to be achieved within the health dimension are: ​​

  • Adequate WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), waste facilities and services, considering different needs, ages and gender, as well as economic and socio-cultural conditions and behaviours
  • Adequate healthcare facilities, services and practices, considering different needs, ages and gender, as well as economic and socio-cultural conditions and behaviours
  • Adequate and healthy nutrition, considering different needs, ages and gender, as well as economic and socio-cultural conditions and behaviours
  • An environment that is green and healthy
Distributing breastfeeding kits as part of the project for safe and inclusive breastfeeding public space in proximity of home by Estudio mais um ©E+1


This dimension considers factors that contribute to a safe and secure environment for young children and their caregivers, determining how to manage risks, mitigate hazards and increase safety and inclusivity. It also details how to improve the perception of safety and security that caregivers experience and behaviours that influence their caregiving practices. ​

The Goals to be achieved within the protection dimension are: ​​

  • Safe and protective home, public buildings and spaces
  • A secure and inclusive network of child-friendly spaces and infrastructure
  • Improved resilience to climate-related risk factors
  • Improved safety and security mechanisms and policy measures
Transforming car-dominated streets in safe and stimulating spaces for children and their caregivers in Valdivia, Chile ©Ciudad Emergente


This dimension considers factors that contribute to a nurturing and playful childhood, addressing how to enhance the quality of children’s interaction with caregivers, peers, other community members, and exploration of the physical space in their home, neighbourhood and city.

The goals underlying this dimension are:

  • Nurturing and playful home environment
  • Age inclusive, playful and accessible network of diverse play spaces and equipment
  • Accessible, playful and responsive childcare environment
  • Young child and caregiver-friendly streets and transport
Testing interactive panels to stimulate the interaction of deaf children with public spaces in Montevideo by Espacio Ludico ©Montevideo_LAB

Scales of proximity

Across the dimensions and goals to achieve within them, the Proximity of Care Framework focuses on the needs of young children, caregivers and pregnant women at three scales of urban proximity and human interaction: the home environment, neighbourhood and wider city.

Child development is shaped by the experiences at each of these scales of proximity and interaction, so an approach that engages with all three scales simultaneously will have the greatest positive effect on childhood development.
The home environment is where the child lives and spends most of their time during the first years of life. It is a personal, intimate, and immediate space, where a young child should feel confident, be able to move freely and is likely to have the most support from and interaction with caregivers.

The physical space of the home refers to the house, flat, shelter or compound, any associated space such as a garden or yard, and immediate street frontage.

Relationships and interactions at the home level are intimate and ideally reciprocal, nurturing and supportive for the young child, involving parents, siblings, and extended family. Home is where family members share time together, do chores, learn or study, relax and rest, socialise with each other, prepare and eat food, and sometimes work. The space of home offers opportunities for practicing responsive care, and for promoting early learning, playing, talking, reading and singing. This scale is critical for the early years, and by establishing strong, stable and nurturing interactions and relationships, caregivers help children develop, explore and learn, while building resilience as a family.
The neighbourhood is where the child develops many spatial, motor, social, relational and communication skills while interacting with the community alongside a caregiver. It is a local, communal, public space, accessible from home.

The physical space of the neighbourhood includes play areas, nurseries, schools, community centres, stores, markets, health facilities, and places of worship. It also includes streets, local transport, and connections between these spaces.

Relationships and interactions within the neighbourhood are social, educational and commercial. Young children and their caregivers engage with neighbours, friends, peers or other children, merchants, service providers, community leaders and other adults. These interactions and relationships expose the child to new social connections that influence their understanding of the world and help them develop skills to relate to others. Caregivers’ relationships with these people strongly influence their wellbeing, with knock-on effects for the child.
The city is a distributed, institutional and administrative space, distant from the home and generally not accessible by walking. This level includes regulatory and governance policies which impact early childhood development. The attitudes and decisions of city leaders and organisations will have significant effects on opportunities for promoting early childhood development.

The physical space of the city includes infrastructure and public services provided at a city-wide level, workplace, health, leisure and economic centres or facilities outside of the immediate neighbourhood. The political and administrative centres and facilities that house city governance play a critical role in defining the policy and funding framework that helps shape a child’s experience of the city.

Relationships and interactions at the city level are primarily functional, involving staff running public services and city administrators. Children, caregivers, families and pregnant women may engage with politicians and decision makers. Their involvement in decision making processes would increase the visibility of their needs at the city level, and early child development could become a policy, funding and planning priority for city leaders and officials.

The Proximity of Care approach

There are ten principles to guide you as you put the Proximity of Care Design Guide into practice and which can help you consider the needs of young children, caregivers and pregnant women in your work.
They can be used at every stage of a project as a reference to check that the development of children remains at the heart of our approach. If you are new to a child-friendly approach to design and planning, understanding and following these principles is a place to start.
Engage with the community that will benefit from and be impacted by your project, particularly with children, caregivers and pregnant women. Listen closely and explore what has or hasn’t worked in the past, and which methods of communication, co-creation and design have been, or could be, most successful. Use a mixture of methods to engage with these different groups within the community, including children under 5 years of age and caregivers, tailored to their characteristics. Children under 5 have different languages and forms of expression to adults, but with the right engagement tools, all can meaningfully contribute to your project.
Finding ways to engage children in all phases of the project in Cuenca, Ecuador ©Huasipichanga
Think broadly about the stakeholders you can engage in your project and consider who can help make it as successful as possible. This could include, for example, relevant technical stakeholders within city authorities or academia, developers, service providers or local business owners. Collaborate across different sectors, age and gender identities. Try to build a sense of ownership and collaboration from the outset to not only help secure the maximum impact for your project, but also open future opportunities to apply child and family-friendly approaches across wider initiatives.
Understanding a neighbour’s perspective in Montevideo, Uruguay ©Espacio Ludico
Approaches that work in one context may not apply to others. Partner with local organisations or community groups with previous experience and knowledge on the community you are seeking to engage and support. Consider local materials and construction techniques, and utilise local expertise. This will boost local economic development and foster a sense of ownership of the project and its results. Be sensitive to local dynamics of power, governance and policy, and work within them to mitigate frictions, build missing links, and ensure inclusion of the whole community.
Partnering with a local university and makerspace to produce furniture prototypes for breastfeeding ©E+1
Aim to build health, support, stimulation and protection across both the physical and relational or policy elements of your project context, considering the levels of proximity and interaction at home, neighbourhood and city scales. For example, whilst a project may consider enhancing the protection and stimulation for young children in a specific public square at a neighbourhood scale, consideration could also made as to how these improvements could feed into wider public design codes impacting the entire city and how the same behaviours could be encouraged in the home.
Discussing breastfeeding with pregnant women in a local health clinic, and sharing the safe breastfeeding kits in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ©E+1
Try to identify where interventions or improvements could simultaneously address the needs of multiple community members at once, including different age groups, gender identities, and abilities. Think creatively about and discuss with the community how your project could serve multiple purposes. For example, a creche could become an adult education centre in the evenings; an outdoor play space could host performances or gatherings for adults; or a public transport stop could provide space for small businesses that cater to the needs of caregivers. This approach can sustainably make use of existing resources whilst also creating opportunities for new connections to form between different groups.
Transforming a leftover space on a residential crossroad into a community hub for babies, mothers, and the whole community ©E+1
Play is fundamental to child development and community wellbeing. Create a range of opportunities for children to play beyond playgrounds and schools, by designing for exploratory unstructured play and social interaction, creating informal learning opportunities in the public realm. Playful sites and moments should be treated as connecting points in a network of safe and stimulating spaces to be enjoyed by all, rather than as isolated locations. Making these play opportunities accessible and connected through sustainable and safe walking or cycling routes can reduce time spent in cars or on transit systems. This can create a virtuous circle, boosting the safety and confidence of the community to use shared spaces. You not only provide more stimulation, connection and comfort to children and caregivers, but also boost economic activity and wider community wellbeing.
Exploring opportunities and challenges for outdoor activities with a kindergarten group in Vig, Denmark ©arki_lab
Connecting children with nature has the dual benefit of promoting physical and mental health, as well as generating a sense of connection and belonging to nature, which is the foundation of caring about the environment. People are more likely to protect what they value and care about, and to care about something they have positively experienced. Integrate climate considerations, action and resilience into every point across your design process, to ensure nature can become a part of everyday life for children and wider communities within cities.
Designing for stimulation in open spaces in proximity to a local school in Cuenca, Ecuador ©Huasipichanga
Consider your project as a series of actions which positively influence behaviours towards child-friendly development outcomes within cities. Identify specific behaviours your project might aim to positively influence to benefit children and caregivers in their home, neighbourhood and the wider city. Keep in mind that prompting and maintaining new positive behaviours often requires a combination of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ interventions to address physical, psychological, and social barriers. One way to do this can be to cultivate a knowledge base amongst community members and stakeholders supportive of the benefits of child and family-friendly principles. This awareness can stimulate collective community action, empower local champions, secure commitments to resources and unblock policy bottlenecks to action.
Proactively involving deaf children and their caregivers in designing spatial interventions in Montevideo, Uruguay ©Espacio Ludico
Be rigorous in your approach to measuring and evaluating the impact of your project to early childhood development, and the wider benefits generated for the community in which you are working. Also, predict, track and report the investment and return in social, environmental and commercial value. Start with a clear process of how this will be measured, reported and shared, and how to learn from it. Consider qualitative and quantitative techniques to get a full picture of the impact and return achieved, and make sure to continue measuring post-implementation to record the different phases of impact. This evidence will be useful to advocate for and convince decision makers and investors of the value in a child-friendly approach.
Spatial observations of environmental, social, and economic indicators in Valdivia, Chile ©Ciudad Emergente
Think beyond your specific project to what other similar opportunities it could inspire, like the ripples from a pebble in a pond. Your project can still be successful as a single initiative, but with strategic engagement with a broad range of stakeholders, it could become a launch pad for policy changes at a city level and a wave of future projects. Equip your community and city leaders with the knowledge, language and evidence-base that will enable them to be champions of an approach to design and planning that considers the needs of young children, caregivers and pregnant women.
Public event about the integration of deaf children in public spaces in Montevideo, Uruguay ©Espacio Ludico