By Sophie Gardiner.
The Abrazo program in Paraguay and the Roving Caregivers program in Jamaica both use unique and innovative methods that could be replicated in other Latin American and Caribbean countries. Let me tell you about them.
Paraguay suffers from high rates of poverty among children: 46.4% of children younger than five are living in poverty, and 25.4% are living in extreme poverty. Furthermore, 14% of those younger than five years old suffer from chronic malnutrition and it rise to 42% in indigenous populations.
The Programa Nacional Abrazo in Paraguay began in 2005 and stands out because it targets street children, while providing close follow-up with families. The program provides comprehensive care, including stimulation, nutrition, health, and, in cases of extreme poverty, a subsidy for the family intended to replace the child’s former earnings. The latter is a particularly innovative approach within the context of LAC social programs. Abrazo’s target population are street children 14 years of age or younger.
The apparently low number of children served by the program is a consequence of its very specific target population: street children. 2,700 children ages 0-14 attended the centers in 2011, 740 of which were between the ages of 0-4. The quality of the teachers who work in Abrazo is high. In order to work for the program, teachers must have degree in preschool education and at least two years of experience with street children. Moreover, Abrazo operates six days a week and for very long working hours: 15 hours a day. Lastly, the program has an impressive follow up routine with parents. Program representatives meet monthly with parents or principal caregivers to discuss care, teaching and learning methods, nutrition, health and development. The program still faces challenges with infrastructure and struggles to find resources to finance all of its initiatives and operations in their own facilities. Despite these challenges, it stands out for its innovative methods to change the lives of a very particular segment of children.
In Jamaica, the Roving Caregivers program is another unique early childhood development program. It began in 1996 as a training program for youth that had dropped out of school, but was transformed into a program of rural home visits to promote child development. Workers from the community identify families that may be at risk and cannot afford daycare, and visit their homes regularly to teach parenting methods that promote healthy cognitive and psychological development.
In 2002, the Bernard van Leer foundation established the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI) to promote the replication of the Roving Caregivers model in other Caribbean countries. It was replicated in Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and in Belize. Variations of the program have accomplished impressive cooperation across sectors, and have included other dimensions of programming such as policy advocacy. The key working principles are to focus primarily on the child; prioritize rural, disadvantaged children and families; engage, train and sensitize caregivers on development stimulation techniques; involve community persons as Rovers; utilize a well-defined curriculum; structure the program of visits and interventions; and incorporate other social support networks. This model is particularly exciting because is a low-cost way to promote the healthy development of children in rural populations. Because the caregiver is from the same community he or she works in, it is more likely that the appropriate intervention will be made.
Both programs will be throughly analyzed in the forthcoming IDB publication Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Comparative Study by María Caridad Araujo, Florencia López-Boo and Juan Manuel Puyana. The book will be available at the IDB´s website (www.iadb.org/socialprotection) from September 10, 2012.
Sophie Gardiner is a senior at Middlebury College studying International Politics and Economics. At present, she is a summer intern at IDB’s Social Protection and Health Division.