In South Africa, 6 out of 10 children are born into poverty. Poverty is associated with inadequate nutrition, sanitation and hygiene which leads to underdevelopment, infections and stunting in children. Poverty is also associated with poor maternal education, increased maternal stress, depression and inadequate stimulation in the home. These factors, if unaddressed, contribute to further poor health, poor preparation for school and consequently under prepare the child for his / her future. The lack of readiness for the job market and perpetuating the cycle of poverty are important long lerm factors when addressing ECD.
Studies have shown that over time good quality ECD programmes that provide good nutrition and health, social services such as grants, early stimulation and supportive parenting from the start of life can support positive development, including good health and academic outcomes, economic productivity, responsible citizenship and effective parenting of the next generation. These services (known as the Essential Package of ECD Services) are fast becoming the key strategy in leveling the playing field in mitigating the ravages of poverty. It must be maximised for children living in poverty who bear the brunt of developmental risks.
The returns: Investment in ECD reduces the costs on the state in areas like chronic illness, unemployment and crime prevention as academic performance contributes to better economic opportunities and earning potential and emotional and physical health is improved.
Therefore, investing in Early Childhood Development is one of the best investments a country can make.
There are however, major challenges facing ECD in South Africa. The more significant of these is the lack of access to quality early learning programmes with gaps in infrastructure, practitioner training and qualification, nutrition, health services, ECD programming, institutional capacity and funding. ECD Centres remain the dominant from of provision and the system is blind to the majority of children who are outside of the system. Currently, 63% of children do not have access to formal ECD provision and are therefore not exposed to a quality early learning programme. This is however the same for many who do attend an ECD Centre where quality remains a challenge. This therefore means that most children entering Grade R are poorly prepared for formal schooling.
Adopting a population based approach, the whole community is considered when determining the needs of a given area. Ultimately our goal is to achieve universal coverage i.e. that each child in a given community has access to quality ECD, via an ELRU programme or any other service provider.
Our aim is to enable greater access and improve the quality of services and programmes available to children in poor communities, in order to ensure their optimal physical, emotional, social, intellectual, mental and spiritual development. We do this by enabling access to an Essential Package of Services i.e. early learning, health, nutrition, social services and support for the primary caregiver. This we accomplish through the following interventions:
The primary tool in this approach is the Community Profiling and Entry Process where consultations take place to establish the need and introduce ELRUs programme offering. The Essential package is then delivered to children where they are located i.e. in a centre or at home.
In communities of the poorest of the poor, we work with existing leadership forums to advocate for universal coverage of the Essential Package, to use what already exists and bring attention to what is needed.
It is our belief that education is a great equaliser and therefore we take our programmes to where the child is located i.e. in the centre or at home placing the child at the centre of our work. All programme elements are designed to harness / realise the full potential of the child in order to give poor and vulnerable children the best start possible.
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