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Soft Spaces, Concrete Connections, Happy Homes: An Early Childhood Success Story

By - Jun 3 2014

Whole Child Intl small

Picture this: you’re a young child. You stand on your tiptoes to reach doorknobs, love playtime, and and are learning how to communicate your wants and needs so that others can also understand them. You spend your early childhood in a room with blank walls and tile floors, and though the grownups that care for you care for you very much, you never see one for very long. You engage with about 50-70 of them before you turn five, dampening the chance of establishing the child-adult connection that is so crucial in those early years of life.

You, though you are so little that many forget this fact, are actually quite critical to the economic future of your country, meaning that spending your earliest years in these circumstances doesn’t threaten only your personal growth, but your nation’s potential for growth, too. Latin America and the Caribbean is the least equitable region in the world, and studies indicate that much of this inequality is determined at birth.  With only 0.3% of GDP invested in early childhood education, there is much work to be done now, while you are still young.

Now, picture this: you’re a young child. You stand on your tip toes to reach doorknobs, love playtime, and though you are developing your abilities to relay your wants and needs, you spend your early childhood in an interesting, home-like space. This space is a happy one, and has soft areas filled with pillows, toys that inspire creativity and cognitive development, and an adult you have come to see as your grownup: as your caregiver whom you grow to care for too. You spend these formative years in an environment fostering strong relationships, preparing you for academic development, and the skills you need to be a productive member of society in the years to come.

What is the difference between these scenarios? That the former is the unfortunate reality of many orphanages across LAC while the latter is an improved one that a partnership between Whole Child International, the Korean Poverty Reduction Fund, and the IDB works to spread in communities the region over.

Operating through low-cost interventions in childcare settings, the program’s underlying mission is a two-pronged one that strives for both sustainability and scalability to new regions and systems of care over time. Though this mission is an ambitious one, a success story in Nicaragua makes it a feasible one, too.

The partnership arrived in Nicaragua to orphanages with committed caregivers. The employees at all five orphanages were seen to truly love the kids they care for, with one woman even adopting some of the disabled youngsters she once worked with.  The environment was ripe for improvement, and success in reaching the target demographic – the children – stood to make for a brighter future for Nicaragua as a whole.

Whole Child International embraced these caregivers, making a marked push for responsive caregiving, continuous primary care, small groups, individuality and identity, and academic development for each child. They stressed the essentials of a productive and healthy early childhood, encouraging practices as simple as adding natural colors and pillows to a room, as personal as creating individual scrapbooks, and as complex as nurturing socialization, academic growth, and feelings of individuality, pride, and ownership.

Whole Child also targeted the lack of education that perpetuated low-quality care countrywide. Working with government officials, administrators, psychologists and more, the partnership worked to change the understanding of childcare at a national level, bringing new knowledge and stressing the importance of implementing evidenced based best practices practices to policymakers and academics alike.

The result? Nothing short of success. Participating children improved their critical test scores by an average of 30 percent in just 17 months, while height and weight increased on average by 46 percent and 34 percent respectively in the same timeframe without any change to nutrition. Though the future impact on Nicaragua’s overall growth can’t yet be quantified, the increased potential of these children is sure to be felt in the communities where they will one day be integrated as businesspeople, consumers, parents, leaders, academics, and more.

Motivated and further prepared by the success encountered in Nicaragua, Whole Child International in partnerships with the El Salvadorian government and national universities will take El Salvador’s orphanages and state run child care centers by storm in the four and a half years to come. Determined to change mentalities in, build capacity in, and leave target countries within five years of arrival, we look forward to the next set of results and the next host of lives changed by these efforts. Stay tuned.

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One Response to “Soft Spaces, Concrete Connections, Happy Homes: An Early Childhood Success Story”

  • Lindsey :

    Whole Child promotes best practices, and yet isn’t it clear that institutionalizing young children is one of the worst things that can be done for their development? Improving the quality of care in orphanages is a good goal, and yet I find it incredible that there is no mention in this article (or, as far as I could find, on the organization’s website) that most of these children have parents who could care for them with the proper supports. What is the cost of running an orphanage vs. addressing root causes of child abandonment like lack of housing? If you just focus on the orphanages and ignore these children’s families and communities, this distorts the goal of social justice.

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