The quality of care and interaction during the first five years of life has a major impact on childhood development and is a critical determinant of a child’s future health, behavior, and intellectual abilities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, access to early childhood programs has increased over the past two decades, particularly for the poor, and preschool services are now available to 69 percent to the population, according to data from the United Nations.

Despite the increased availability of services, however, no systematic information has been available until recently about these programs. Information is needed not only for policymakers to ensure that the quality of such services is acceptable and regulated, but also for parents themselves to be able to choose the daycare center that is the best fit for their children, close to their home or office, affordable, clean, and well run.

To better understand the current situation and challenges, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) surveyed 42 programs that offer childcare or parenting services in 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study mostly examined government programs, although it also looked at services run by civil society organizations and private entities, given their reach in certain regions. The resulting report published in 2013, Overview of Early Childhood Development Services, is the first systematic review of such programs in the region. It focuses on understanding program design, components, coverage, costs, and quality. Data was collected through in-depth interviews with the managers of the programs.

According to the survey, there is a wide range of models currently in place in the region to serve children under age three. In the Andean countries, for example, community-based models have been established where a mother feeds and looks after groups of 8 to 10 children in her own home and is paid by the government (and in some cases by parents). By contrast, in the Southern Cone, services operate largely through formal institutions where children are grouped by age and are cared for by professional educators.

There are a number of important issues that need the regions’ attention based on the main findings:

  • To increase hiring of qualified professionals and decrease the child–to–adult ratio.
  • To train and better pay professionals to improve the quality of care.
  • To increase closer monitoring of services.
  • To channels nutritional services through childcare centers.
  • To strengthen commitment by country governments to significantly improve the quality of childcare services.

This article was originally published in the IDB´s Development Effectiveness Overview 2013 (DEO)

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