In collaboration with Sophie Gardiner. 
The governments of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are all investing in the provision of public childcare services for disadvantaged families. As a result, female labor force participation has improved, but conditions for children are not necessarily better. So, how to improve the quality of these services? Smaller child-to-caregiver ratios, training, investments in infrastructure, establishment of standards and systems for monitoring them, cross-sector coordination, betterment of curriculums and management, are some of the thoughts and challenges.

Six months ago, we saw a great opportunity to convene a broader dialogue within the Andean region, where countries are facing similar challenges in their efforts to improve the quality of their childcare services. Therefore, the IDB launched last May a space to reflect together with government officials of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. We meet monthly with the ministries and professionals in charge of these reforms and we all learn from one another’s experiences.

While countries share a common interest in carrying out reforms to enhance the quality of their early childhood development services, there are also important differences across them. Some of these differences relate to the point from where this reform is starting. Countries like Colombia or Ecuador have long-standing programs with large coverage and face the challenging of changing them. The situation is different in Peru and Bolivia, where some of the interventions are being designed from scratch. Countries also differ in the set of actions they have identified as key towards achieving quality. We want to discuss those in more detail.

  •  In Bolivia, the government is implementing a new program called “Crecer bien para vivir bien” (Grow well to live well), which focuses on children younger than four years old. A recent blog post by our colleague Julia Johannsen described the details of this initiative. Its focus is on investing in existing childcare services to improve their quality. Additionally, it envisions the creation of new ones: a parenting program and specialized services for children with developmental delays.
  • In Colombia, there is a very ambitious reform currently in progress and it consists of transitioning from a community-based childcare system out of this setting and into new, center-based Jardines Sociales. The Jardines are staffed by professionals and they have quality infrastructure, equipment and materials. An evaluation of this change is ongoing. The Colombian government’s Strategy for Integrated Attention for Young Children called De Cero a Siempre (From Zero to Forever) continues to push the quality agenda and this is one of many ongoing initiatives.
  • Ecuador is also implementing policy changes in response to evidence that documented problems in its public daycare services (INFA). Reforms include hiring at least one professional staff in each public daycare. Additionally, the government is building 200 new “emblematic centers” that aim to set a new bar for the quality of the infrastructure of these services. There is also a focus on setting standards, working on the curriculum, and improving management at the center-level.
  • Peru is implementing many reforms under the umbrella of Cuna Más. On the one hand, it has recently launched a program aimed at improving parenting practices and early stimulation for children 0-36 months of age in the poorest districts through weekly home visits by trained staff that will work with mothers. On the other hand, it is working committedly towards a quality improvement in its daycare services through the training of its staff, the reduction of its child-to-caregiver ratios, and investments to equip the centers with stimulating toys and materials.

IDB has had the privilege to support these four important reform initiatives. By facilitating a community of learning among the policymakers who are implementing them, we are all acquiring lessons, in real-time, from each other experiences and reflecting upon our own… and hopefully gaining new ideas and motivation to continue the implementation of this important agenda!

Sophie Gardiner is a senior at Middlebury College studying International Politics and Economics. She was a summer intern at IDB’s Social Protection and Health Division.

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