There is a global consensus about the importance of high quality early childhood development, education and care (ECDEC) programmes. Increasingly, the systemic characteristics of early childhood programmes are recognised by policy makers and international bodies. This ‘systemic turn’ has created new challenges. Education, primary healthcare, nutrition, children’s rights, social cohesion, equality and other aspects that contribute to the ECDEC system are often grounded in different, and not necessarily matching, conceptualisations, understandings, terminologies and accepted practices. Bringing them together in a Competent System (Urban et al, 2012) requires coordinated approaches to governance, resourcing, professional preparation, and evaluation that embrace complexity.