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The stimuli that children are exposed to from the beginning of life to age 5 have the greatest impact on their development, and they define the health, personality and intellectual capacity of each child. This is why it is crucial to invest early and well in child development. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are investing more and more in early childhood development. However, what do we know about our region’s programs and services?

We would like to share with you the new IDB publication entitled Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean. The research studies public programs, child care centers and parenting services, in 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with a focus on children ages 0 to 3.

This study confirms that child development services have experienced a major expansion in coverage: enrollment in the programs grew by 117% in the past five years. However, this expansion has not always been accompanied by the necessary resources to ensure the quality of services. For example, despite the rapid growth in the number of children served, staffing increased only 61%. Another parameter that documents this trend is that the number of children per adult is, on average, a caregiver for every six children under the age of 2 years. However, the recommendation is that there should not be no more than three children per adult for babies of 0-1 year and no more than four children of 1-3 years.

This book makes a thorough investigation of the costs of the various child development services. The region offers child care services for children ages 0 to 3 using a wide range of modalities. The Andean countries have achieved broad coverage by implementing community-based programs. For example, a mother cares for and feeds groups of eight to ten children in her own home, and she receives a payment from the government for providing this service. By contrast, services in the Southern Cone largely operate through formal institutions where children are grouped by age and cared for by professional staff. It has been estimated that the annual cost per child for child care services totals US$1,239, while the average annual cost per child for parenting programs totals US$247. The analysis also concluded that, despite the recent expansion in the coverage of these services, there is still much work to do to reach the most vulnerable populations.

The study found that strict adherence to health standards at the centers is critical in many cases. Health and safety issues are monitored at just 44% of programs. Since the immune system of young children is not fully developed, this lack of oversight poses a health risk for the children.

Lastly, given the high rates of malnutrition present in the region, child care services could offer another means for the monitoring of growth and development. However, only 4 out of 10 programs provide children with micronutrients, which is a missed opportunity.

These are just some of the topics explored in depth in Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean. The first part of the book is devoted to a comparative analysis of the programs in the region. In the second part we review, country by country, the characteristics of its major programs. We hope this book constitutes a useful reference and a working tool for policy makers in the region in the design and reform of policies and programs for early childhood.

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