ECD and ECI Transdisciplinary Training in Sarajevo: “Intersectoral ECD and ECI approach will improve child health and development in the State of Palestine”
By Almir Panjeta
From 5th to the 15th of March 2017, UNICEF State of Palestine in partnership with the NGO “EDUS - Education for All” and UNICEF BIH, supported organization of the transdisciplinary Training on «Early Childhood Development and Early detection and intervention for children with developmental delays and disabilities “for 16 SOP's government representatives and service providers.
The training was conducted in the NGO EDUS's training center in Sarajevo, BiH and the policy makers and service providers from health, education and social protection sectors form SOP improved knowledge and competencies on topics like early childhood development, assessment of child development, creation of individual service plans, and provision of early intervention services for families with young children with developmental delays and disabilities. EDUS with UNICEF BiH, supported by the BiH government has developed an innovative model of a system for early childhood detection (ECD) and intervention (ECI) in order to recognize children at risk and with developmental delays and disorders as early as possible and introduce services that will enable them to catch up with their typically developing peers and prevent in many cases life-long disability and exclusion.
The main objectives of this transdisciplinary training were to support government of SOP to create a system of early detection and intervention in their country and implement the priorities defined under the National ECD and ECI strategy 2017-2022, as well as to provide professionals with a diversified knowledge and competencies training in how to use standardized instruments for harmonized “whole child” assessments and interventions in ECD and ECI particularly focusing on most vulnerable families with young children with developmental delays and disabilities.
One of the participants, Dr. Elias Habash, UNRWA family health officer from West Bank said that ECD Center managed by EDUS in Sarajevo is one of the good examples that they can learn from and take from. EDUS training and examples helped them better understand the importance of early childhood period and help them in envisioning their own system and how to successfully implement it. Dr. Habash says that this workshop has met his needs:
“This workshop was excellent opportunity to learn more about importance of holistic approach to early child health and development. As a biggest service providers to SOP refugees we have considered introduction of the child development concept into the child healthcare including monitoring of development milestones, and early detection of delays. I gained new knowledge and abilities as a family health doctor to upgrade and improve child health services delivered in the UNRWA health clinics”, says Dr. Habash, adding that the situation in child healthcare in West Bank is very good:
“We have almost 100 percent immunization program, good compliance from families to have their children vaccinated. We monitor children's weight and height, and we discover problems such as stunting, underweight and overweight children, so in the last ten years we have followed up on implementation of updated child growth monitoring standards in Palestine. In addition, we provide young children with micronutrients such as Iron and vitamin A to combat anemia and to improve nutritional status of children. Nevertheless, the early detection of children with developmental delays and disabilities is not part of our health program, although it is very important, I believe as a health specialist, this component should be integrated in our health program. ”, says Dr. Habash.
“At school entry we are facing problems: delays, disorders and disabilities which were not diagnosed before because we missed these children, we couldn’t monitor them from 2 to 5 years of age. We missed this opportunity so we probably missed lots of disabilities, delays or disorders in their early developmental stages. I believe that if we integrate this concept of early detection and then intervention, it will improve children’s health in general”, says Dr. Habash. He also said he hopes that Ministry of Health with Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Education and Higher education will support ECD services “because this new program is bringing together all ministries who are accountable for children; health, education and social protection ”:
Amani Jouda, Health and ECD Officer from UNICEF Palestine, Gaza sub office, said that “This is very important program because Palestine endorsed the National ECD and ECI Strategy 2017-2022 and one of the key priority is introduction of the early detection of children with developmental delays and disability and intervention services.”
“We supported our national teams of service providers to attend the training and to learn about this innovative approach in ECD and ECI. UNICEF SO is supporting Gaza local authorities to introduce similar ECD services tailored based on needs of Gaza context and children's needs. A child is everywhere the same, but there is parent's issues, culture, and we have to focus more on changing parenting practices and behaviors. I think this whole concept that we have learned in BIH is completely applicable for our country. By this approach we will be able to discover any delays or any disabilities as early as we can, and start working with the families and children. This program will help us improve our work because on the child's monitoring growth we are doing great, but on the child developmental monitoring, we’re not doing so much, so this will help us to support better development of our young children in Gaza”, says Jouda.
UNICEF SOP is preparing a 20 ECD corners in the MCH clinics, where new services for ECD and ECI will be provided. So far, 20 health clinics were indentified all over Gaza Strip, and UNICEF SOP is procuring furniture, didactic materials and instruments for provision of ECD and ECI services. This TOT provided by NGO EDUS will help us in provision of services as soon as we come back to Gaza. Next step, will be follow up ECD and ECI training provided by EDUS experts in Gaza, which is taking place on 28 April. ”, Jouda added.
Lubna Sabbah from NGO Near East Council of Churches Gaza (NECC) says that training in Sarajevo was great learning opportunity and that she gained a lot of new knowledge and understanding on the more holistic child developmental approach which could be implemented in Gaza.
“As a key implementing partner for the postnatal home visiting services in Gaza, UNICEF SOP has select our health center to be one of the pilot sites for the ECD corners. From this training, based on the Bosnian model EDUS developed with UNICEF BIH, we have learned new competencies for assessment of children’s development and provision of early intervention service to children with delays and disabilities. ”, Sabbah said.
“In the NECC's health center we monitor children up to age of three years old, and we monitor only child growth and nutritional status. We do not monitor development, says Sabbah adding that the training is linked and in cooperation with their approach and their direction and work:
“This training will enable us to improve our work but also to train other NGOs in Gaza and West Bank how to use this more holistic approach. This is extremely important for us because of the Gaza context, and the situation, where we face huge risks of high prevalence of disabilities and congenital abnormalities. We have noticed the high prevalence of abnormalities and congenital anomalies, so we have to ensure provision of ECI services to our young children.”
Breigheith O. Breigheith, director of Nurseries & Foster Families Department, State of Palestine Ministry of Social Development, has underlined the importance of multi-sectoral approach which is the key principal of the ECD and ECI:
“We started working 20 years ago, developing the idea of how we can introduce better services for the children. We know that one of the most important periods for child development is the first three years. This age group of children is not covered in our country. Thanks to UNICEF SOP support and coordination, three ministries – Ministry of social development, Ministry of health and Ministry of education and higher education and UNRWA, jointly worked for a one year to finalize the National ECD and ECI Strategy 2017-2022, The Strategy was signed and endorsed by three sectoral ministers with the support of the H.E. Prime Minister. Now we need to train doctors, nurses and social workers to cover all the fields, we have a lot to do and it’s not easy, so this training has come in the right moment. We need training curriculums, guides and instruments for the professionals who are providing services to families with young children. I am very happy that we will start working on structured parenting education following parent education curricula presented by EDUS. ”, says Breigheith.
This training is just the beginning of the partnership between the UNICEF SOP and EDUS, and the aim is to help the government of SOP in partnership with public and other relevant sectors to restructure the existing services for young children, advance them and introduce innovative measures and activities in order to advance early childhood services for all children in SOP. All young children particularly most vulnerable and children with developmental delays and disabilities deserve a better chance for a brighter future!