Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on children and families in the Western Balkans and Turkey
UNICEF and the European Union (EU) are collaborating to safeguard the wellbeing of children in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking an unprecedented toll on children and families
There is abundant evidence that children bear a heavy burden resulting from disrupted essential services, increased social isolation, and loss of family income.
In pandemic times, parents and caregivers are more likely to feel overwhelmed with providing stimulation and care for their young children and delay seeking prompt medical attention for children. Childhood immunization and other basic services were often suspended. School closures can mean a year of lost learning and children become more susceptible to dropping out.
Uncertainties have created family distress, which contributes to serious mental health issues, especially among children who are vulnerable to violence and abuse. The pandemic has deepened pre-existing vulnerabilities of children with disabilities and children living in poverty.
In 2021, UNICEF and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations launched a two-year initiative to strengthen national health, education, early childhood development, and child protection systems to ensure continuity in the provision of core services for vulnerable children and their families in the immediate and the longer-term recovery response to COVID-19. The initiative is being implemented in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey.
Action and impact
How UNICEF and EU will support children and families
The European Union’s contribution of €5 million will help to ensure the continuity and quality of essential services in a context of epidemiological restrictions, while building durable national capacities that deliver quality services for children and families.
The work at local level is aligned with the national needs and priorities and includes:
- Strengthening the continuity of essential health and nutrition services and capacity of health service professionals. Activities will include research and analysis, technical support to ensure community of essential services and commodities, support for development of national guidelines and innovative platforms that enable parents to access information on newborn care, breastfeeding, nutrition and immunization, as well as capacity building of health workers.
- Strengthening the continuity of child protection services and capacity of social work and social service professionals to better identify and respond to the needs of vulnerable children and families by creating access to child protection services and mental health and psycho-social counselling.
- Strengthening education services through capacity development of teachers in delivering quality and inclusive learning through digital learning for all children. Support will include developing teacher training, guidance, adapting inclusive high-quality teaching materials to local languages, and capacities of and providing advice to policy framework to improve the effectiveness and quality of distance learning.
- Supporting early childhood development (ECD) services and the capacity of ECD professionals. Emphasis is placed on expanding and improving the quality of tools and digital resources and that support children, their caregivers, and wide range of ECD practitioners. Innovative solutions will include, for example, online learning platforms for pre-school children and for children with developmental difficulties, and a smartphone app that can be used nationally to provide advice and support to parents of children 0-6 years.
In the Western Balkan region and Turkey, vulnerable children and families depend on front-line workers and functioning national systems to deliver essential services during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF will support health care professionals, social workers and social service workforce, teachers, ECD practitioners by providing training and supportive supervision, technical guidance and tools (including digital devices), and supplies to enable infection prevention and control.
78,500 children and 84,000 caregivers will benefit from the continuation of essential maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition services.
208,880 vulnerable children will benefit from improved identification, referral and support from the child protection services.
54,400 children will receive support for equitable, inclusive digital learning through strengthened teacher capacity and improved access to quality digital content.
55,225 children and 14,350 caregivers will benefit from improved capacity of ECD professionals and improved access to ECD services.
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Contact for more information
Regional Adviser, Early Childhood Development