The teacher enters the classroom, and the bustle turns to silence. Exams are placed on each desk. The teacher walks to the front, points to the clock above the blackboard and says in a firm voice: “You have exactly 90 minutes to finish the test. Get started.” We feel the pressure, take a deep breath, and become aware that there is no time to lose. That’s the power of the countdown, which gives us a sense of urgency and focus to perform our best in a limited amount of time.
November 20, World Children’s Day, is a date to raise awareness about children’s rights, and to remember that to promote the future of societies there is also a countdown that urges us: the first 5 years of a human being, a stage where the brain shows an elasticity that does not occur at any other time and fundamental skills are developed for the rest of a person’s life. It is a unique window of opportunity that moves us to act before it is too late, in pursuit of helping children develop cognitive and socioemotional skills and good health and nutrition.
Early childhood care cannot stop
Inaction and deferment of key activities for children are detrimental to their development, where every week, every month and every year makes a difference to children’s futures. For this reason, even in the context of a pandemic, during 2021 the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Innovation Fund did not stop carrying out actions to support children in our region.
In 2021, the Early Childhood Development Fund already reached a cumulative investment of more than US$10 million in 26 projects, and we have extended our projects to 10 countries with themes ranging from improving the quality of care in childcare centers, kindergartens and early education services, programs to improve parenting practices at a large-scale, the development of various studies and activities to strengthen regional networks that support early childhood development, and the implementation of a robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We did this because we understand how important it is to invest in children and to integrate other actors such as families, caregivers, early childhood care systems and governments. Some of the interventions implemented with the support of the Fund include:
- Group meetings and home visits to support parents and caregivers in parenting.
- A program to promote social and emotional learning.
- Study and psychosocial group accompaniment to protect and promote the development of children who have been affected by violence.
- Public-private co-responsibility in childcare centers.
- Support for families with children under the care of their grandparents.
- Virtual training and mentoring models for caregivers with in-home tutoring and self-learning activities.
- Programs to improve parents’ and babies’ health since pregnancy.
- Analysis of the quality of childcare services.
- Scaling of pedagogical programs that include play and art.
- Evaluation of programs with media content for children’s cognitive, socioemotional, and physical development when face-to-face services were closed during the pandemic.
- Empowering parents through information on positive parenting.
- Use of technology and behavioral science to promote child development.
- Creation of a regional knowledge hub on early childhood development.
Adaptations to ensure continuity: virtual and hybrid modalities
As a result of quarantine measures adopted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several childcare services, preschools, and parenting programs were interrupted or modified. This exacerbated the lack of attention to children. The impact was even greater on vulnerable families in Latin America and the Caribbean. Added to this were the effects on mental health, learning losses, increased risk of abuse and social exclusion, and lack of household income, with food deficiencies.
In the midst of this critical context, several of the Early Childhood Development Innovation Fund projects had to adapt quickly, switching to remote or hybrid interventions. In cases such as the Fund-financed projects in Boa Vista (Brazil), Colombia, Jamaica, Haiti and Uruguay, telephone calls, radio programs, video calls, text messages and WhatsApp, and even loudspeakers in community centers, were used to deliver support service to the population. Some projects also provided kits with manuals and guides to instruct parents and caregivers.
Although the impacts are still being evaluated, we know that these adaptations brought some benefits, such as personalized attention through virtuality, less costly and more scalable interventions, and in some case, the possibility of reaching places of extreme poverty and difficult geographic access.
However, we still have a long way to go. For example, we need to ensure child welfare with comprehensive programs, focused on the quality of services and on closing the gaps between boys and girls who come from different backgrounds. We also need to urgently address the prevention of domestic violence and mental health problems (both for children and caregivers). It is also essential to continue to innovate in hybrid care modalities and to promote the safe reopening of care centers and preschools.
On this World Children’s Day, let us remember that children are the group that needs care the most and are one of the most impacted by the crisis. Mindful of the countdown to the first five years, let’s focus on investing in them. This is a test we must not fail.
The Early Childhood Development (ECD) Innovation Fund, with the coordination of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the support of Fundación FEMSA, Fundación María Cecilia Souto Vidigal, Open Society Foundations, Porticus and the Bernard van Leer Foundation, will continue working in the coming years with the firm purpose of innovating to achieve the quality of ECD services. To stay connected and learn more about this innovative work, we invite you to explore the Knowledge Hub on Early Childhood Development where you will find details of these projects, resources, and useful information on ECD.