New UNICEF study calls for cross-sectoral services for early childhood intervention

Focusing on children aged 0-6 years with development delays and disabilities, the report highlights the need for greater cross-sectoral support to families and children

01 November 2022
New UNICEF study calls for cross-sectoral services for early childhood intervention
UNICEF/North Macedonia/Georgiev/2022

Skopje, 31 October 2022 - Today, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners came together to discuss the findings and recommendations of a new study that examines early childhood intervention services for children with development delays and disabilities.

The Situation Analysis of Early Childhood Interventions in North Macedonia provides insights into programmes and services available in the country.  Among other things the study highlights that the scarcity and unavailability of early childhood developmental screenings and early childhood intervention services at the national level, results in a high proportion of children in at-risk situations, developmental delays and/or disabilities going unrecognized and unserved.

“The first years of life provide a unique opportunity to shape a child’s ability to learn, grow and contribute fully to society, while preventing potential delays in development and disabilities,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative. “Developmental delays can be caused by poor birth outcomes, inadequate stimulation, malnutrition, chronic illness, psychological and family situation, or other environmental factors. This is why cross-sectoral - health, preschool and social welfare - integrated screening and support to families and children is vital to help children fulfil their potential.”

The Situation Analysis highlights that in cases where children have received developmental screenings, parents were usually the ones seeking out the service and more often the identification of developmental delays/disabilities was late. Only 44 per cent of children start receiving developmental screening before the age of three. The findings call for a system of Universal Developmental Screening, Assessments and Referrals so that children and families receive timely support.

“Early identification and developmental screening of children largely depend on health professionals including obstetricians, neonatologists, pediatricians, family doctors, psychiatrists, patronage nurses, etc. Therefore, the Ministry of Health provides continuous support to further strengthen all sectors, with primary health care as a priority,” said the Minister of Health, Bekim Sali.

While early childhood interventions are largely delivered through the health sector, recognising the need for family-centered and child-centered services, the situation calls for close intersectoral collaboration of health sector social welfare, pre-school education, child protection, as well as several disciplines that pertain to these sectors, such as social work, psychology, and special education.

“Reforms in social protection provide an entry point for all professionals working in the field of disability to give their contribution to the development of child potentials and the capacities and skills of the family. Through investments in social services, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy builds the network of services and ensures adequate coverage,” said Jovana Trenchevska, Minister of Labour and Social Policy,

The UNICEF supported Situation Analysis of Early Childhood Interventions in North Macedonia was conducted with the financial support of the European Union as part of a two-year regional UNICEF and Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) initiative. The initiative aims 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 in the countries of Western Balkans and Turkey.

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