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Fostering Fathers’ Involvement in Children's Early Development through ICT (Updated Dec 30, 2014)

The Madrasa Early Childhood Programme Uganda (MECPU), has engaged in early childhood development for over 20 years, focusing on developing and promoting innovative approaches to improve the quality of life of young children. Since 2013, MECPU has been implementing a WHO/UNICEF Care for Child Development (C4CD) package, which provides guidance to caregivers on how to optimise development of children (0-3 years) through play and communication. A key challenge has been lack of engagement of fathers. MECPU will test an innovative model through a 2 year pilot that complements existing C4CD activities and encourages greater paternal participation complemented through mobile technology and radio to disseminate C4CD messaging and tools.

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Early childhood development plays a crucial role throughout a child’s life, impacting future income earning capacity and productivity, overall health, socio-emotional wellbeing as well as verbal and intellectual development (Calman & Tarr-Whelan, 2005).  For children, significant investment in ECD results in greater social cohesion, better academic performance, and an increased capacity to adapt to new technologies (Young, 2000, Evans, Myers & Ilfeld, 2000, Reynolds, 2001).  Ensuring healthy child development, therefore, is an investment in a country's future workforce and capacity to thrive economically and as a society (World Bank, n/a). Yet in Uganda, while great steps have been made since the introduction of the National ECD Policy in 2007, too many children fail to receive the best start in life (World Bank, 2012).
 
For more than twenty years, the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme Uganda (MECPU) has been working with partners to promote community-based, high-impact innovations to enhance early childhood development.  The programme works with 97 communities – in both Central Uganda and the West Nile sub-region, enhancing their capacity to optimize child development from birth. MECPU has reached over 14,000 children and trained and supported over 5,500 ECD teachers and 3,000 community members. 
 
Improving awareness amongst parents and caregivers on how to enhance their children’s early development during the 0-3 year age period is is a key approach of MECPU.  In recent years, the organisation has piloted the WHO-UNICEF Care for Child Development package in partnership with the local health system aimed at supporting development during these important early years.  Yet, MECPU has observed that fathers are under-represented and often absent from awareness activities carried out by Village Health Teams that target caregivers in the communities – resulting in a lack of exposure to key messaging on optimising their children’s cognitive, socio-emotional and physical development.  The involvement of fathers is crucial as studies show that children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes. A number of studies suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their young children results in higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities (Pruett, 2000).
 
Studies on paternal child-care in Uganda suggest that in addition to embedded traditional gender roles, the leading negative influences on father’s involvement in child rearing is confidence and motivation (Nkwake 2009). Evidence indicates that interventions targeted at fathers yield results in behavioural change, such as positive discipline, more time spent with infants, and transformed attitude regarding traditional gender roles (Fatherhood Institute 2012; Kocak 2004; UNFPA 2011).

MECPU’s idea is an interactive campaign designed to disseminate key child development messages and promote the importance of father’s involvement in children’s lives using mobile and radio technology.  This campaign tackles the issue of low involvement of fathers in the raising of children in MECPU’s coverage areas.  This campaign addresses the problem as MECPU will use the technology to reach fathers through interactive mobile technologies, using mass SMS to spread Care for Child Development (C4CD)-modeled messages, surveys, quizzes and bulletins about the importance of supporting young children.  Fathers will also be sent interactive play and communication activities, such as stories and games, which they can carry out with their children.  Additionally, in order to monitor and ensure fathers’ active engagement in the activities, MECPU will partner with local radio shows to launch an interactive program covering key C4CD themes and encourage fathers to call in to speak about their experience with raising children, share best practices and provide their feedback on C4CD ideas.  The radio show would also be used as an opportunity to bring in local experts to elaborate further on C4CD interventions and present fun and innovative ideas to promote children’s early development. The radio program will easily reach a broad number of communities and parents, and serve as an awareness-raising initiative to get more parents engaged in their children’s development. (Updated December 30, 2014)

To increase reach to fathers, and address gaps in confidence and motivation, MECPU will develop and implement a targeted interactive model designed to disseminate key child development messages and promote the importance of father’s involvement directly to 4,300 fathers in Central Uganda using mobile and radio technology. It is expected that an additional 17,000 caregivers and family members will also benefit.  Mobile saturation in Uganda has reached almost 100% and radio listenership is high, so the potential to scale the intervention is great.  MECPU will partner with local mobile network operators, mobile application developers and local radio companies to develop and test the interactive platforms.

Fathers will also be sent interactive play and communication activities, such as stories and games, which they can carry out with their children.  Over the years, MECPU has collected many local-language oral stories that are culturally relevant, and age-appropriate.  As part of our initiative of engaging fathers, MECPU will identify a minimum of 10 oral stories, which will be recorded with local actors and storytellers and sent to the fathers via mobile technology. Fathers will be encouraged to sit down with their children and listen to the stories, engaging with their children’s learning and cognitive stimulation. 
 
Background
Through its work in rural and urban communities in Central and North-western Uganda, MECPU has identified a number of challenges parents experience in supporting the development of children, aged 0-3. In particular many parents lack knowledge of the importance on interacting and providing for their children beyond the basic needs (food, clothing, shelter etc).  MECPU has identified that in some of their program regions, only 1 out of every 10 parents read to their children, as they are either illiterate themselves or are unaware of how best to read to a child who cannot speak.  Particularly in rural areas, parents and caregivers (often women and mothers) are heavily burdened with the domestic duties of cooking, collecting water, preparing gardens while simultaneously caring for children.  As a result, parents/caregivers feel that they do not have the time to spend playing and communicating with their young children.  Additionally, parents often feel they are unable to play and communicate with their children due to a lack of physical space in their homes and lack of affordable toys.  Finally, there is still the large challenge in the engagement of fathers in child rearing, as it is still traditionally seen as a women’s role.

MECPU’s Implementation of C4CD
Beyond the provision of basic needs, quality care for young children means keeping children safe from harm, and providing them love, attention, and opportunities to learn. However, families often need assistance to focus on the most important activities for the development of young children. MECPU takes a systems approach to providing this support by engaging and training local government health workers who then disseminate the C4CD messages and provide ongoing support to caregivers.
 
The C4CD intervention being implemented by MECPU is based on basic childcare principles: much of what children learn, they learn when they are very young; children need consistent loving attention from at least one person; and children learn through playing and exploring their environment.  The reason for the C4CD intervention’s international success stems from the fact that it is low cost, it can be tailored to many different schedules and C4CD involves play and communication activities that caregivers naturally perform. For example:
  • C4CD’s play materials are generally homemade and inexpensive, ecologically friendly, easily accessible, and encourage creative thinking from its creators and users – everyday household items like plastic containers, cups and metallic plates are used to initiate play, simulate “grown-up” activities like cooking and construction and encourage increased interaction between parent and child.
  • Rather than creating new structures, C4CD ensures sustainability through enhancing the skillsets of existing community-level actors, such as Village Health Teams, Community Resource Teams and formal health providers.

The Challenge of Fathers’ Engagement
Studies show that children who grow up with involved fathers often perform better, exhibit pro-social behaviour and are more comfortable exploring the world around them (Parke, 1996). Studies indicate that fathers exposed to multi-media learning materials demonstrated high retention scores, were able to convey the role of father’s in children’s lives, and in a related study, were more likely to use positive strategies to resolve problem behaviour with their children (Al-Hassan 2009).  Given the relatively low involvement of fathers in the raising of children in MECPU’s coverage areas, the project seeks to test whether the use of mobile technology (SMS) alongside local radio programs can be used as a catalyst to motivate fathers towards C4CD messaging and activities with their young children. Through using widely-available technologies, MECPU will complement and bridge the existing face-to-face interactions from C4CD-trained personnel to provide reminders, tools and activities to increase the frequency and scope of key messaging, encouraging fathers through regular interaction to be a daily part of the solution. MECPU will also draw upon the VHTs to aid fathers in establishing peer-support programmes to help men recognize the importance of engaging in their children’s lives in addition to participating in C4CD-training activities. By encouraging the frequency of interaction with C4CD and increasing the likelihood of father-child activities, positive behaviours will be cascaded to other family members, such as older male siblings, making healthy child-rearing a household responsibility that extends beyond mothers. Finally, engaging men as fathers fosters generational change. Evidence suggests that fathers’ positive involvement with their children increases the likelihood that their sons will be more gender-equitable and more nurturing as fathers and that their daughters will have more flexible views about gender as well (Russell and Rodojevic 1992; Levine 1993) 

References
 
Al-Hassan, S. (2009). Evaluation for the Better Parenting Programme: A Study conducted for UNICEF. Jordan: UNICEF.
 
Apollo Nkwake (2009) Maternal employment and fatherhood: what influences paternal involvement in child-care work in Uganda?, Gender & Development, 17:2, 255-267.
 
Calman, L. J. & Tarr-Whelan, L. (2005). Early childhood education for all a wise investment. Recommendations arising from “The Economic Impacts of Child Care and Early Education: Financing Solutions for the Future” a conference sponsored by Legal Momentum‟s Family Initiative and the MIT Workplace Center
 
Evans, J. L., Myers, R. G., Ilfeld, E. M. (2000). Early Childhood counts: a programming guide on early childhood care and development. WBI Learning Resource series: World Bank. Washington D.C.
 
Levine, J.A. 1993. “Involving fathers in Head Start: A framework for public policy and program development.” Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services 74(1):4-19
 
McAllister, F. & Burgess. A. (2012). Fatherhood: Parenting Programmes and Policy – A Critical Review of Best Practice. Fatherhood Institute.
 
Parke, R.D. (1996). Fatherhood. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Press. 
 
Pruett, K. (2000). Father-need. New York, NY: Bradway Books.
 
Reynolds, A. J. (2001). Age 21 Cost – Benefits analysis of the title 1 Chicago child parent centre program. Chicago Longitudinal survey. Chicago: Chicago Education Department.
 
Russell, G. and M. Radojevic. 1992. “The changing role of fathers? Current understanding and future directions for research and practice.” Infant Mental Health Journal 13(4):296-311
 
UNFPA (2011). L’École des Maris au Niger, des chiffres et des homes UNFPA: Niamey, Niger Novembre 2011.
 
Women’s World Banking. (2012). WWB Focus Note: Solutions for Financial Inclusion – Serving Rural Women.
 
World Bank. (2012). Systems Approach for Better Education Results: Uganda Early Childhood Development.
 
World Bank. (n.a). Why Invest in Early Child Development (ECD). http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTCY/EXTEC /0,,contentMDK:20207747~menuPK:527098~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:344939,00.html
 
Young, M.E. (2000) From early childhood development to human development. Proceedings of the World Bank Conference Investing in Our Children’s Future. Washington, D.C.
 

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

Fathers from Central Ugandan communities, in which MECPU is currently implementing C4CD activities, will be targeted. The intervention will also reach other caregivers such as mothers and older siblings. The project will ultimately benefit over 6,500 children aged 0-3 in Central Uganda.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

1) Identify a sample community we are working in. 2) Identify/Partner with the local telecommunication company. 3) Use Village Health Teams and key influential community members to identify fathers to sign up for C4CD messages though SMS 4) Use a local radio station and test it for one week to get parents feedback.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

In order to make this idea real MECP will partner with a local telecommunications company, a mobile applications developer and radio stations in the regions in which we operate. Using radio and SMS technology is the best way to engage fathers in our communities, but accessing those channels would require building these new partnerships for implementation and cost sharing. Additionally, in order to strengthen this project, MECPU would greatly benefit from others experiences in designing simple and user friendly mobile platforms (updated December 30, 2014). This project would also be strengthened with technical support from the IDEO community on testing and measuring the platform using a human-centred approach (Updated January 1, 2015)

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.

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The idea of getting parents involved in their children's development is a key matter. However using media could be a little bit complicated for some of the communities. In those first five years of live, how good is to relate a baby with an electronic device? People is still a little bit reactive to that. But appart from this I believe your idea is quite interesting and could also be useful in some developped countries, changing, or not, some of the advise you give. There are quite a lot of books for new parents and this method adapted to developped countries could de also very useful for these parents!
Great idea!

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