31 January 2022

Reopening Childcare and Early Learning Services

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for children in early childhood to develop healthy brains, bodies, and lives. While countries in East Asia and the Pacific have made substantial progress in investing in early childhood development (ECD), services supporting the development and learning of young children will likely suffer more than other education levels as they remain closed or in limited duration for fear of children contracting COVID-19.  This publication has been developed based on LACRO’s publication and adapted to suit the East Asia and the Pacific regional needs and context. It is intended for UNICEF country offices in the region to support their role in providing technical assistance to government partners and other organizations. The publication provides guidelines for reopening of services for young children aged 2 years up until the official primary school entry, either 5 or 6 years, and their families. It also includes a checklist to conduct rapid analysis of the services’ conditions and designing plans for a safe reopening.  Safe reopening of childcare and early learning services while preparing a strong response to future emergencies should be prioritized. The pandemic has meant prolonged closures of childcare centers, preschools, and early learning services. With no or limited ECD and preschool experience, young children are growing up without adequate stimulation, essential interactions, and school readiness competencies, thus exacerbating the developmental and learning loss. This may lead to damaging consequences in the years to come for many young children, especially those from poor and remote communities, from linguistic minorities, who belong to ethnic groups, children with developmental delays and disabilities, migrants or children affected by violence or abandonment, among others. 
31 December 2021

Growing Steady and Strong

Young children need to be nurtured and cared for in a holistic manner by their main caregivers and service providers. This means that as early as during pregnancy, mothers should receive all the necessary physical and emotional support and services to secure a safe pregnancy and delivery. Babies should have a protective, healthy and adequately stimulating environment, while toddlers and young children should be nourished, protected, and ready to learn by the age of 5. Governments and stakeholders can contribute to achieving this through integrated policies and programming. Robust financing and assessments are needed to track child development and the quality of early childhood development (ECD) services for countries to firmly advance towards the achievement of target 4.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The ECD Regional Guidance in East Asia and the Pacific, Growing Steady and Strong, aspires to provide clear, useful and context-adaptable tools for advancing the ECD agenda in countries. It presents the most up-to-date research, tools and global guidance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as well as other ECD expert organizations. It contains country examples and best practices to strengthen the regional community of learning and practice to support UNICEF country offices in planning and advocating for ECD policies and programming.  In recent years, countries in the region have made significant gains in reducing the number of children at risk of not reaching their maximum developmental potential. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed this trend by exacerbating the inequity gaps, which has highlighted the importance of sustainable and sufficient investments for countries to build back faster and better from the crisis. Therefore, sustainable and equitable investment in ECD interventions, especially targeting the most vulnerable (such as children with developmental delays and disabilities, children from ethnic minority groups, and rural and dispersed areas), is a strategic and effective way for countries to mitigate the negative impacts the pandemic has brought upon younger children and their families.  Now is the time for all relevant stakeholders to implement high quality, timely and sustainable, scalable actions to push forward the ECD agenda towards urgent recovery to build back better. Growing Steady and Strong reflects UNICEF’s commitment to young children and their families by providing technical guidance and support to all UNICEF country officers and stakeholders to move forward the ECD agenda in the region. 
14 July 2021

Young Children and the Pandemic

At the height of nationwide lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 150 million children younger than 5 years in East Asia and the Pacific were affected. The pandemic brought service provision for young children in many of the 27 countries supported by UNICEF programmes that promote nurturing care and are essential to their optimal development to a standstill. Yet, even before the pandemic, more than 42 million children in the region were at risk of not reaching their developmental potential.  Early childhood starting from conception, especially in the first 1,000 days of life, is a period when 90 per cent of brain development takes place. At this crucial time, young children need nurturing care – good health, adequate nutrition, responsive caregiving, early learning and stimulation, physical and emotional security and safety. This early moments in life offer a window of opportunity to boost children’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social development – influencing their readiness to learn in school, to solve problems, to relate to others, and overall mental health and well-being. This ultimately has a significant impact on their adult lives, affecting their ability to earn a living and contribute to their societies.   COVID-19 threatens this precious opportunity for children in early childhood to develop healthy brains and lives through the disruption of essential health and nutrition services, the suspension of opportunities for early learning, the stress and burden on families and parenting, increased protection risks, and the severe negative impact on families’ household economies.  Using the latest available evidence, this report summarizes the impact of the pandemic on services essential for young children’s development: For example, that the number of children younger than 5 years visiting community health centres in Viet Nam dropped by 48 per cent; that in Indonesia, more than 50 per cent of households reported not being able to meet their family’s nutritional needs; or that in the Philippines, more than 80 per cent of households experienced a decrease in their household income. Households facing disadvantages before COVID-19 – those with young children, those living in rural and remote areas and low-income households – are in most cases more disproportionally affected by the pandemic.  UNICEF in East Asia and the Pacific continues to help families and their young children in these pandemic times develop to their full potential by supporting governments to provide continuity of early childhood development services. UNICEF country offices across the region continue to implement early childhood development interventions to ensure that young children have access to holistic interventions that respond to their essential needs throughout their first eight years of life.