The early childhood development cluster of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is working to protect the youngest children in the region. Find out how.
About 19.6 million preschool children (i.e., children who are under 5 or 6 years old, depending on each country’s preschool structure) are temporarily out of school because of COVID-19. Everything seems to indicate that about 90% of the region’s early childhood centers will remain closed while quarantine measures continue. In addition, family support services that regularly operate through home visits or group meetings are also temporarily suspended, in compliance with necessary social distancing rules.
This disruption to both services and homes is unprecedented and, unless swift action is taken, consequences for child development could be devastating. Children (especially children living in poverty) are among those most vulnerable to the financial consequences of a crisis; they are the first to be neglected and, almost always, those in which we invest the least. This pandemic has made children even more invisible, partly because, from a medical point of view, they are less affected by the virus.
If, to the existing child development gaps in the region, we add deepening poverty due to job loss among adults as a result of imposed restrictions, unequal access to health and sanitation services, limited knowledge about virtual learning tools, and gaps in parenting capacities, the result can be a catastrophic loss of human capital. In light of this reality, in the Early Childhood Cluster of the Inter-American Development Bank, we are working to protect the youngest children in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
To Support Children, We Must Start by Taking Care of Their Families
The consequences of the disruption of early childhood services go beyond those purely educational. In fact, a recent article showed that quarantine may have negative effects on children’s physical and mental health. Not only can they become physically less active, have longer screen time, develop irregular sleep patterns, and have less healthy diets, but also, and perhaps more importantly, their mental health can be affected by a lack of in-person contact with classmates, friends, and teachers, in other words, a lack of socialization.
In today’s confinement situation, millions of mothers and fathers must assume the role of promoters of their children’s development. Therefore, caregiving and nurturing practices have become particularly crucial. Many programs maintain frequent contact with their beneficiary families monitoring children’s health and well-being via telephone or by providing home-visit activities in videos sent through WhatsApp, among others.
The Focus on Children by the Public Sector in LAC
In these circumstances, governments are addressing three key challenges:
- Nutrition. Ensuring safe food provision is crucial during early childhood, and this usually takes place in care centers or preschools. To address the continuity of this service, several countries are using alternative means of distribution by enabling families to collect food from these centers or ensuring food delivery to their homes.
- Psychosocial and Social-Emotional Environment. Continuing to promote play, warm and responsive interactions, and positive discipline practices, despite high stress and anxiety levels faced by caregivers and families, are critical to adequate child development.
- Social Protection. Providing financial support to all families that are at risk of social exclusion or vulnerability must become a priority, because the lack of an income source for caregivers or adult family members can, among other things, directly affect child development.
At the IDB, we are working on strategies to support programs by providing tools for families, teachers, and early childhood providers to continue to play their important role. We aim to cover the following areas, which will be detailed in a forthcoming policy brief.
- Parenting programs (at home, in health centers, and in groups)
- Child Care Centers
- Social Protection
- Nutrition and Health
- Knowledge Dissemination (through a dashboard, an online course, articles, and a platform)
It is imperative that these strategies are designed to reach those who need them most. At the IDB we will continue to support Latin American and Caribbean countries to mitigate the impact that this crisis may have on children in the region. To this end, we have joined other organizations in issuing A Call for Action on Early Childhood Development and COVID-19. Together we must prioritize the protection and support of children and their caregivers in the response to and recovery from COVID-19.
What is your government doing to address children’s needs during the pandemic? Let us know in the comments section below and mention @BIDgente on Twitter.