|© UNICEF/ HQ96-1400/ Pirozzi|
|Children seated on a bench against a wall drink from large brown mugs at the UNICEF-assisted Kibera Day Care Centre in Kibera, the largest shanty town in Nairobi, Kenya..|
Very young children are particularly vulnerable in situations of crisis, instability and violence. The formative years from birth to age 6 (particularly in the 0-2 year age group) play a vital role in the formation of intelligence, personality and social behaviour. The greatest risk for young children is a repressive environment that blocks creativity and lacks conditions for healthy physical and mental development. Natural disasters and armed conflict can severely impact the healthy physical, mental and emotional development of young children.
In the immediate stage of an emergency, UNICEF assesses the status of young children and gathers information to determine which needs are most pertinent. The restoration of primary health care services, mother-and-child and nutrition services, as well as access to clean water and a hygienic environment are key parts of an integrated early childhood development response in emergencies. Reaching parents and caregivers and working with them is vital for ensuring stability for young children in emergency situations. To this end, UNICEF trains and supports caregivers.
Child Friendly Spaces provide children with essential health services in emergency situations. Just as important, they offer stability in the midst of chaos and allow children to continue schooling, receive psychosocial support and play with other children. A focus on young children’s development is a cornerstone to these spaces. For example, in Liberia, UNICEF collaborated with partners and Child Friendly Spaces committees to provide early childhood care, growth promotion, as well as informal learning counseling, and recreation for school-age children. Caregivers were sensitized on good caring and rearing practices.
The Early Childhood Development Kit is an integral part of UNICEF’s response for children in emergency situations. The Kit focuses on the needs of children 0-6 years old in emergencies and transition and can be used in regular programming for development as well.