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‘Roving Caregivers’ promote early childhood development at home in Jamaica

© UNICEF Jamaica/2005/Hoad
‘Roving Caregiver’ Marva Ricketts prepares two children for their nap.

Early childhood care and education is the theme of the 2007 ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report’ newly launched by UNESCO and UNICEF. Here is one of a series of related stories.

CLARENDON, Jamaica, 26 October 2006 – Marva Ricketts is a biological mother of three, but she is a familiar face to 30 young children across five communities in the parish of Clarendon. Twice a month, she visits the children’s homes to play with them and speak with their parents.

Ms. Ricketts is part of the Roving Caregivers Programme run by the Rural Family Support Organization (also known as RuFamSo), a Clarendon-based NGO and UNICEF partner. A recipient of UNICEF’s prestigious Maurice Pate Leadership for Children Award, the programme provides child development support and parenting education through home visits.

‘Rovers’ from RuFamSo work with rural children whose families cannot afford day care or do not fully understand the importance of providing proper stimulation for early childhood development. Each Rover is assigned to about 30 families and goes from home to home introducing them to developmentally appropriate child-care practices.

Parents’ support system

To stimulate and educate the young children in their care, Rovers use colourful and interesting toys – including cushions with zips and buttons to develop eye-hand coordination, bottle stoppers and shells in egg boxes for classification games, balls and hoops for motor development, and picture cards for building sensory and language skills.

© UNICEF Jamaica/2005/Noorani
A Jamaican ‘Rover’ engages a toddler in stimulating play activities while her mother and sister look on.

Ms. Ricketts first learned of the programme as a parent; two of her children have benefited from its services. “After seeing the stimulation provided and how it worked, I joined and formed a parent group. I was the first president of the group,” she recalls.

She also remembers that the programme provided opportunities to learn from various experts who addressed parents on topics ranging from health and nutrition to pastry-making. The group provided a support system for her and helped lift her spirits when she felt discouraged.

In 2004, Ms. Ricketts herself became a Rover, filling a vacancy left by one who had worked with her child. She had some previous training in the early childhood field but received additional training from RuFamSo. She says she enjoys her work, adding: “Children are our heritage and we have to protect that heritage at all costs.”

Continuing success

A large part of Ms. Ricketts’s satisfaction comes from seeing children who were once shy and unresponsive blossom into active, eager participants after exposure to her interventions.

“There was this particular little boy who was always withdrawn. He would not respond to me,” she says. “Then one day I was at a funeral and I was singing. He was also there with his mother. Suddenly he just walked right up to me and said, ‘Teacher, you singing?’ And since then our relationship has been good.”

Ms. Ricketts says she is now determined to continue a career in this field. She has completed first-level training in early childhood education and development under a national vocational programme and wants to begin level two soon. She hopes in the future to attain a bachelor’s degree.

“My hope is that this programme can be brought to the national level,” she says, referring to the Roving Caregivers, “because a lot of children do not have this privilege.”




20 October 2006:
Regional Education Adviser in Latin America and the Caribbean Garren Lumpkin discusses the scope of early child development programmes in the region.
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