There is overwhelming evidence that the experiences children have early in life and the environments in which they have them shape their developing brain architecture and their future growing into healthy productive members of society. Early childhood is a critical period for realising a child’s rights to education, health, protection and participation.
The evidence, from international research and from Save the Children ECCD programmes, has also consistently shown that high quality ECCD provides the essential help which a young child needs to survive and thrive in life and the support which families and communities need to enable children’s development and growth. By ameliorating potential risk factors, ECCD safeguards children’s rights to health, education and protection and enables them to enjoy and participate productively in life. High quality ECCD, during the first years of a child’s life, has multiple benefits for children and families in terms of education, better health, child protection, women’s empowerment and parenting skills. It contributes to children’s readiness for school and equips them with early literacy and maths skills which in turn help them to do well in these areas. Children develop good social skills and they learn to work together and collaborate with others. They show less learning difficulties and challenging behaviours and become happy and healthy individuals.
ECCD which integrates nutrition and parenting education improves children’s health and lowers infant child injuries and mortality rates. Children’s attention span improves as it does their language and cognitive development. Parents use less harsh parenting skills, while domestic conflict and violence is reduced. Many parents improve their abilities to manage their lives and improve their education and employment opportunities.
The multitude benefits of ECCD signpost to its conceptualization and implementation as an integrated early intervention for the child, their families and communities supported by multiple sectors, especially health, education and child protection.
Integrated ECCD programmes which are both child-centred and adult-centred and embrace a multi-component approach (e.g. provide early stimulation and educational experience; integrate health services, nutrition and parenting education) are particularly beneficial for the youngest and most vulnerable children and their parent and families.
The roundtable discussions strongly supported the argument, articulated in the evidence base document, that high quality ECCD provides both the essential help which a young child needs to survive and thrive in life and the support which families and communities require to promote children’s survival and protection. It was highlighted however that most low resource countries lack ECCD programmes for children under 3 years old and only a few have established frameworks to coordinate ECCD programmes for 3-5-year- olds, while under investment for ECCD continues.
Limited capacity for trained ECCD caregivers was raised as a key challenge for expanding ECCD services. Many ECCD caregivers have limited or no training at all, whilst the majority of them enter employment in ECCD services with low academic credentials (e.g. secondary, and in some cases, basic education certificates). Those ECCD caregivers, trained by INGOs including our organisation for our programme implementation, often move on to the private sector for better paid employment once they gain experience. Whilst such capacity is not completely lost, the most vulnerable and marginalised children and their families are served by those least trained. As a result many young children, especially those from poor and rural households, do not have access to quality ECCD services.
Our evidence base about ECCD caregiver training has shown that in many low resource countries there is limited training for integrated ECCD caregiver training. The training offered is mainly discipline and sector focused, leading to recognized and accredited qualifications that linked to remunerated professions such as teaching, health visitors, social work. These professionals often become ECCD trainers but they are unlikely to work directly in ECCD services, due to lack of opportunities for paid employment.
The lack of trained ECCD caregivers has a knock on effect on expanding ECCD. It was noted during the roundtable discussions that even when countries receive external funding (from instance the World Bank) to expand ECCD services, they are unable to do so due to lack of capacity. This argument is often voiced in discussion with SC staff in countries where we operate. Yet, it is known that well-qualified ECCD staff is one of the main factors that affect the outcomes of children attending ECCD services.
As a result of this research and consultation, SC UK has included capacity building for caregivers as one of the priorities in its ECCD strategy. Adhering to the Moscow framework for integrated ECCD an “integrated ECCD Caregiver Training” programme is being designed and will be piloted in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
For this pilot project, two types of ECCD were selected:
- Home-based ECCD for children 0 to 2 years old children: community facilitators with a minimum level of education are identified by communities to visit 12 families once a week to strengthen the knowledge and skills of parents in child development, play and timulation, hygiene, health, nutrition and any kind of their children's care. Each community facilitator also holds a group-based parenting education session to discuss and reinforce key knowldge and practical skills related to child upbringing. It is expected that community facilitators will collaborate with other local child and family services.
- For children aged 3-5 years, a pre-schooling system is being devised in four (4) schools in targeted communities to host centre-based ECCD. Beneficiary communities have built preschool classrooms with local materials and with support and supervision from the Save the Children International office in DRC. In each preschool class, two caregivers are responsible for taking care of children through play and stimulation activities and the provision of health (e.g. medical visits with vaccination sessions, deworming, etc.) and nutrition (e.g. running of canteen) services, the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities and the promotion of hygiene. The ECCD caregivers also run weekly group-based parenting education sessions for the parents of children attending the ECCD centres.
A rigorous monitoring and evaluation of the pilot will contribute to the contextualisation and validation of the integrated ECCD curriculum and increease the local evidence for developing a replicable and scalable model of training to generate positive results for children.
 Key findings are summarised in the ECCD Position paper, of the Education Team, SCUK (drafted by T. Papatheodorou)
 key findings are summarised in the evidence base document on ECCD caregiver training (drafted by Anna Wadsworth)
 UNESCO (2010) Moscow Framework for Action and Cooperation. Harnessing the Wealth of Nations. Moscow, 29 September