Early childhood

The Issue

UNICEF in Action

Resources on Early Childhood Development


UNICEF in Action

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Motivated to close the equity gaps in child well-being, early education and school readiness, UNICEF has typically engaged in advocacy and strengthening of rights-based policies. We are now determined to address the unfinished business that is allowing the exclusion of certain children by evaluating the effects of UNICEF’s programming to date and building on these results. We will also be encouraging regional collaboration so that countries can learn from the lessons of their neighbours.

UNICEF’s core roles are to be a voice for children, conduct monitoring and evaluation of past projects, give policy advice and assistance, leverage resources from public and private sectors, enable knowledge exchange and help governments to translate legislation into quality and inclusive services on the ground. We have identified the following goals to drive our efforts in early childhood:

• All children:
- Arrive at school developmentally ready for schooling.
- Enrol in formal primary school education by the age of six years.

• All service providers:
- Incorporate and practice the principles of child development in their activities for and with young children and families.

• All families:
- Have the knowledge, skills and access to resources in order to provide a nurturing, safe, supportive and stimulating environment for their young children.

UNICEF’s contributions to every young child’s comprehensive wellbeing

To assist countries in the region with standards and promote evidence-based changes, the UNICEF Regional Office is working on these main areas with country offices and partners:

• Development of a regional guidance document with standards and protocols for the development of quality home visiting services that take into account the historical health sector changes and range of needs in this diverse region
• Support to countries in developing an expanded role for community nursing to move beyond child survival and contribute to greater child wellbeing and increased social and economic capital
• Assistance for building the capacity and skills of home visiting and primary health care personnel to increase their understanding of the importance of early child development and gain skills to better engage and empower marginalized and vulnerable families to provide a nurturing and safe environment
• Emphasize the lead role of the health sector for prevention and early identification, as well as support, for families in raising young children with developmental difficulties; and
• Assistance to countries in monitoring, assessing and sharing effective implementation models and outcomes for children.


Serbia has invested heavily into its polyvalent community nursing system that provides support to all families. Additional services are provided to those who are more vulnerable from conception through the early years in a strong continuum of care. In Serbia, women receive home visits during pregnancy to prepare for birth and parenting. Then, after delivery, maternity wards inform the patronage nursing services of the impending discharge of a mother and newborn, and visits start again the day after discharge to counsel families, identify additional stress factors and needs, build parenting skills, and refer families to other services as needed. This, in combination with a 24-hour helpline, has reduced health centre visits by about 10% and makes families feel more supported and satisfied with their health delivery system (for more information, click here).

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia conducted a very detailed home visiting assessment in 2011 and developed approaches and tools in the process. In an effort to upgrade home visiting nursing competencies to support children with disabilities and developmental difficulties, pre- and in-service training programs are currently under review in partnership with a UK university and will lead to stronger knowledge and skills of home visiting personnel.


Bulgaria is one of the countries that abolished home visiting services in its past health system reforms. Because of the critical needs to support effective and responsive parenting in a challenging economic environment and to reduce the institutionalization of young children, UNICEF Bulgaria is implementing a demonstration project in one region of the country with the purpose of scaling it up with the government. In addition, Bulgaria is conducting a national campaign to raise awareness about the potential benefits of home visiting to families of young children.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina established an intersectoral working group in the Canton of Tuzla and integrated its successful IECD Center services into the the cantonal health centers to strengthen outreach to families through the health sector. The plan is to assist the government to scale up effective, cost-efficient and high quality IECD services in all health centers of the country and increase the support for young children with disabilities and developmental difficulties.


After an intensive assessment that included inputs from families with young children, Turkmenistan will strengthen the content and reach of its home visiting services in its new maternal, child and adolescent health plan.

UNICEF contributions to school readiness for all children

Equity is our priority in the region and we know that an even playing field in early education can contribute to reducing equity gaps. We are engaged in conducting multi-country analyses and monitoring to see where we have made a difference and where we have emerging results to build on. UNICEF has been working with national governments and civil society partners to introduce a variety of innovative, high quality and cost-effective early learning and school readiness models that include, a one-year, child-centred pre-primary programme, children’s educational television and half-day community kindergartens for children aged three to six.


Concerned that many children were not well-prepared for school, the government of Armenia designed a pre-school education reform effort with support from UNICEF and World Bank funding. The reform addressed pre-school access through low-cost models, and pre-school quality through a new curriculum and standards. It also addressed the overwhelming demand for pre-schools. New pre-school services were created in 200 rural and disadvantaged communities that serve over 5,000 children, while existing services are being expanded.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

UNICEF has provides support to implement the National Action Plan on Children’s Rights (2012-2015) which highlights the importance of increasing access to quality ECD services for rural and marginalized children. This is to be achieved through expanding the capacities of existing kindergartens and the introduction of alternative forms of provision. The National Strategy for Education (2005-2015) in its sub-programme for preschool education calls for inclusion of all children aged 3-6, especially the disadvantaged groups (children from rural areas, children from socially marginalized families, Roma children, children with disabilities and others).


After a UNICEF-sponsored workshop on communication for behaviour change, a team in Kyrgyzstan initiated the development of the first children’s books in the Kyrgyz language. Creative local talent was identified and children participated in designing and revising the books. The process resulted in five beautifully-illustrated books for children and parents. The characters in these books soon transformed into the principal protagonists of a unique animation, edutainment television programme for pre-schoolers – The Magic Journey. An evaluation of the programme confirmed that it is watched by almost 95 per cent of preschool aged children, is well-loved and parents and teachers report that their children are learning.

Roma Early Childhood Inclusion

The Roma Early Childhood Inclusion project is sponsored and managed by UNICEF together with the Roma Education Fund and the Open Society Foundations - Early Childhood Programme. Its purpose is to gather data and information about the inclusion of young Roma children in the early childhood services. RECI Reports identify the priority early childhood policy issues and concerns in respect of Roma families and children. They are grounded in normative values (e.g. the basic rights of children and minority groups as outlined in the UN Conventions and EU Directive 2000/73 of 29 June 2007), in agreed early childhood research positions on the strategies to be adopted in supporting excluded families and children, and in data-based investigation. The Reports place a strong emphasis on progress achieved and on innovative programmes that can be generalised to benefit all countries.


Turkey’s Strengthening of Preschool Project supported financially by the European Union, and technically by UNICEF, aims to increase enrolment and attendance rates of children from disadvantaged families. Efforts have been undertaken under this project to improve the provision and quality of early education services through: strengthening the capacities of relevant departments within the Ministry of National Education, developing community-based day care and preschool education models, setting up efficient monitoring and assessment systems, launching a nationwide campaign to promote the importance of early education, providing equipment and supplies in 32 provinces and, setting up grant schemes targeting the collaboration of public institutions, municipalities and non-governmental organizations.

Last updated November 2013



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