By Clara de Souza Peixoto

In this post, I’d like to tell you about some important changes taking place in Panama. Although descriptions of institutional reforms, regulatory changes, and the management issues behind public policy may come off as a bit dry, my intent is to write about the foundations on which we hope to coordinate interventions that produce concrete results in the country’s child development services.

In late 2009, Panama appointed an Advisory Council on Early Childhood, composed of ministers and deputy ministers of health, education and social development and representatives of civil society and the business sector. The Council was established under the leadership of the First Lady. Its first achievement was to present a Comprehensive Care Plan for Early Childhood (PAIPI) in 2011.

Within this framework, the Council has worked hard over the past year to create a new public policy addressing comprehensive care in early childhood. As in many Latin American countries, the current policy on child care is scattered and sectoral in nature. It’s a policy based on supply rather than demand, and it responds to partial needs rather than rights. Therefore, the requirements for comprehensive child development are not present.

This policy is being constructed on the basis of four strategic objectives:

  1. Positioning: As in other countries, Panamanian society understands little about the importance of comprehensive development in the early years of life. By the same token, a focus on rights in early childhood policies has been absent. We seek to position the Panamanian government as guarantor of these rights and public policies that ensure comprehensive child development.
  2. Coordination of services: Comprehensive child care requires the development of management tools to coordinate the actions of different public and private institutions. Relevant stakeholders include not just the health and nutrition sectors but also those charged with children’s emotional, social and cognitive development. The tool we have proposed is a care path that recognizes the comprehensive care that should be provided to children prenatal to age six.  For each requirement, one official bears primary responsibility while others each take on a specific role. Thus, the care path program provides the basis for generating models of care that take into account the socio-cultural characteristics of the population.
  3. Financial coordination: The lack of visibility in terms of the importance of early childhood means budgets for this population get low priority. We hope to obtain the funding necessary to effectively implement the care path and care models that are generated. The 2013 budget already allocates specific items to PAIPI; the challenge now lies in securing sustainable funding.
  4. Information, monitoring and evaluation: The country does not have a consolidated information system for early childhood or its phases of development. The first step has been to issue an identity card to every child at the time of birth, in order to have a unique identification number that can be used in all public and private institutions.

With the policy that we’re developing, we’re laying the groundwork for major changes for the children of Panama. The biggest challenge is ensuring that all of these good ideas materialize—through successful management—into real results in the development of children and both their and their families’ wellbeing.

Clara de Souza Peixoto is an IDB consultant, who is currently in charge of coordinating the Comprehensive Care Plan for Early Childhood in Panama.

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