The benefits of recent economic growth are not reaching young children
Recent economic growth in many CEECIS countries is promising, but growth remains uneven and poverty among some groups is on the rise. The increasing economic and social disparities across the region have resulted in deepening poverty and vulnerability. This has left families in despair, forcing them to adopt coping strategies harmful to young children, such as migration, child abandonment and institutionalisation. Children are now the group most likely to live in poverty and among children, young children are at greatest risk. Because of the significant linkages between child poverty and poor cognitive development, and because poor children are among those least likely to have access to services that support their growth and development, child poverty is indeed a serious concern for CEECIS.
Low social investments fail to support children’s early childhood development and school readiness
Dramatic drops in social spending during the transition resulted in significant reductions in the coverage and quality of basic services. Widespread efforts in decentralisation and privatisation, without complementary efforts to build local capacity, identify local resources, or establish national oversight frameworks, have resulted in reduced government capacity to provide universal services that effectively support parenting and child development in the early years.
Early childhood and education systems access and quality at all levels of education system suffered in the transition period, though the situation of preschools is particularly dire. With the end of centralised provision, large numbers of preschools closed across the region during the 1990s. Demand also dropped with increased household costs, eroding quality and decreasing rates of women’s participation in employment.
Early childhood and health systems
The solid health system infrastructure, large numbers of trained doctors, and high rates of hospital births are legacies of the Soviet era, yet preventative and curative care have declined, accompanied by overall drops in health care quality. The shifting of health costs to the household level and the adoption of private health insurance in some countries led to dramatic increases in inequality in health service access.
Overall, health reform efforts have neglected children from marginalised populations and the critical need to treat the ‘whole child’ to support young child growth and development. Early Childhood and Social Protection Systems Supports for families with young children, including maternal leave policies, child and family allowances, parenting support, and organised child care for young children from highly vulnerable families plummeted during the transition, and remain low. In addition, a long history of institutionalisation of abandoned children and those with special needs continues today.