Early Childhood Development
UNICEF advocates building cross-sectoral policies for integrated support to early childhood development, to responsive, gender-balanced and playful parenting, as well as to timely early childhood intervention.
To ensure that parents and caregivers in Serbia have time, resources, capacities and services to give children the best start in life, UNICEF advocates building cross-sectoral policies for integrated support to early childhood development, to responsive, gender-balanced and playful parenting, as well as to timely early childhood intervention.
Children who grow in a warm and stimulating environment with positive childhood experiences have better physical and mental health, better outcomes in school, stronger social abilities and increased chances for success and prosperity.
Early detection of developmental risks and delays and timely intervention, including family-oriented support, are essential in the early years, especially the first 1,000 days of life. This is the window of opportunity that can affect development of the child’s essential life skills, functioning and quality of everyday life.
Programme Area Goals
To ensure that young children and their families benefit from services that support nurturing care for early childhood development, UNICEF is strengthening the network of early childhood development service providers through improving policies, standards and professional skills for delivering timely, culturally and gender-sensitive, high-quality integrated services and programmes.
Early childhood development programmes that include support to the parents and child in the family environment are among the most efficient means of sustainable social development.
Caring about the caregivers opens the door to supportive parental practices that nurture child development and strengthen the quality of child-parent relationships and bonds, prerequisites for good life outcomes in both childhood and adulthood.
By 2025, national and local health and other service providers and stakeholders have improved understanding, standards and skills to deliver culturally and gender-sensitive, high-quality integrated ECD and early childhood intervention services and programmes for all children from conception to 6 years of age, benefiting their development and inclusion and empowering and capacitating parents to adopt positive nurturing-care practices.
Our goal is that by 2023:
- 60 per cent of all children aged 12 to 35 months, including 35 per cent children from poor households and of 20 per cent Roma, are engaged in four or more activities providing early stimulation and responsive care in the past three days with their father by 2023
- That 8,000 children under 5 years are identified with developmental risk, delay or disabilities receiving standard early intervention services through a UNICEF-supported health programme.
Young boys and girls, particularly the most vulnerable (living in poverty, Roma children, children with developmental difficulties and disabilities), do not reach their full potential, as they lack responsive and stimulating caregiving environments. Nurturing care and parenting support programmes are not well integrated across the three key sectors relevant for the child development – health care, social welfare and preschool education – and programmes are not organized in a way to address the range of needs of both children and families.
Data show that:
One in three children between the ages of 3 and 4 suffer corporal punishment, even though 90 per cent of parents agree that it is not needed.
As many as 60 per cent of children aged 2 to 4 years do not benefit from fathers’ engagement in playing and learning.
- Only half of children under 5 living in poor households have three or more books, compared with 90 per cent of children in the wealthiest group.
- 60,000 young children in Serbia face developmental risks and difficulties, and their families need additional support through early intervention services.
- Health care services are still treatment-based within health care facilities with only occasional meetings with the child, while introduction of the family-oriented approach that strengthens caregivers’ capacities for early stimulation of child development in the family environment is still a challenge.
- Fragmentation of services across sectors affects the most vulnerable populations.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened existing vulnerabilities and social inequalities, affecting emotional well-being and mental health and decreasing parents’ capacities to engage in playful, responsive practices that nurture quality child development.
The best support for a child’s early development comes at the right time and builds on the strengths of the adults the child depends on most – parents and caregivers.
To develop strong orbits of support that are attentive and responsive both to the needs of children and their parents, UNICEF is investing cross-sectoral efforts in the following areas:
- Strengthening of institutional and professional capacities in health protection, social welfare, preschool education to ensure accessibility and quality of support provided to children at early age and their parents. The capacity building programme focuses on early detection of developmental risks and early support to responsive, playful, gender-balanced parenting as well as on the caregivers’ mental health.
- Fostering evidence-based policy and regulatory changes that prioritize cross-sectoral response to emerging parental and children’s needs, investments in early childhood development, early childhood intervention and parenting support programmes based on the Family Life Cycle Approach.
- Supporting the expansion of efficient and sustainable good practices related to early childhood development and parenting, including monitoring of efficiency and quality of services and supportive supervision for ECD professionals.
- Fostering communication for social and behaviour change and mobilization of communities to act on behalf of parents and children in affirming positive parental practices, free of violence, that build on quality parent–child interactions and play from the very first the very day.