Early Childhood Interventions
Early childhood interventions (ECI) constitute a systematic approach to detect and address developmental delays or disabilities at an early stage. This applies to children of school age or younger who may have or are at risk of developing a condition or other special need that may affect their development in a harmful way, leading to a disability in the more serious cases. ECI consists of services for such children and their families for the purpose of lessening the effects of the condition. ECI can be preventive or remedial in nature – preventing their occurrence or remediating existing developmental problems.
Early identification and interventions may focus on the child alone or, ideally, on the child and the family together. ECI programmes may be centre-based, home-based, hospital-based, or a combination. Services range from identification – hospital or school screening and referral services – to diagnostic and direct intervention programmes. ECI may begin at any time between birth and school age. However, there are many reasons for it to begin as early as possible. Timely ECI services greatly decrease the need for later costly special education services, special health care, and institutionalization.
In order to extend the coverage of ECI services in BiH, UNICEF has started to provide technical assistance in drafting by-laws at the state and entity levels. This will, for instance, help clarify the roles and responsibilities between different stakeholders, develop an institutionalized capacity building programme on ECI, and define the process of referring children with disabilities for adequate treatment and care. Training modules are being developed jointly with Government experts, based on the HELP method. More support and capacity development is needed for health, education and social welfare professionals for them to be able to provide adequate and individual services. Parents should also be provided support to identify possible signs and symptoms of developmental delays and disabilities, as early as possible.
Rehabilitation centres (24 in RS and 38 in FBiH), day-care centres and NGOs (such as Edus) are providing services to children and persons with disabilities. There is a need to strengthen these institutions, develop capacities of staff, and use these facilities as resources centres, as part of a network to exchange knowledge and experiences.
UNICEF has also been supporting the development of policies, strategies and action plans, along with the mainstreaming of Integrated Early Childhood Development (IECD) and ECI services through the health sector. 13 IECD centres – including satellite branches in rural areas – have been established and additional services will now be strengthened in existing rehabilitation and day-care centres. The draft training programme will also be institutionalized, and support will be provided to systematically detect and address developmental delays and disabilities.