A conference on “Early Childhood Development – Right and Investment with Long Term Effect” was held in Sofia on 12th and 13th of November 2014.
The conference combines the efforts of 3 leading organisations working in support of children and families – UNICEF, For Our Children Foundation and National Netwok for Children. The event caught the attention of the policy makers – the executive branch, international experts, the academia, the non-profit sector.
The conference was opened with speeches by Mr. Konstantin Penchev, Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria; Tanya Radochoy, UNICEF representative for Bulgaria; Dani Koleva-Policy Director at the National Network for Children; Ivanka Shalapatova, For Our Children Foundation’s CEO.
“As the famous African saying goes ‘If you want to go fast – go alone. If you want to go far – go together.’ This is why I would like to thank all our partners for their cooperation and best practices. But it is also important to emphasis UNICEF’s understanding that only comprehensive sectoral policies and well-founded early interventions can combine education, healthcare and social protection in a common mechanism that works efficiently on the local level – with communities and parents. We also see the need for effective research work and the with early childhood development,” said Tanya Radochay UNICEF representative for Bulgaria.
Various well-grounded studies in the fields of neurology, psychology and medicine demonstrate the influence that the early childhood have on children’s mental and physical health, their social skills and behaviour, their school performance and later in life their chances for successful inclusion in the social and economical life.
“I urge the newly formed National Assembly to revive the debate on the Child Protection Act. It’s a state duty to pass the respective legislation that would guarantee that every child would have normal development”, remarked Konstantin Penchev Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria.
The children who grow in poverty, in an unhealthy environment,without adequate nourishment, deprived from a strong emotional connection with a significant adult and from the various opportunities for learning since birth are at biggest risk of developmental problems.
“I hope that the conference will provide a place for discussion of what, why and how of the amelioration of the separate sectoral policies and the implementation of an integrated approach toward child development that would guarantee children’s rights and would provide the best results for the kids, their families, their communities and the society as a whole,” said Dani Koleva Policy Director of the National Network for Children.
The lost opportunities for early childhood development contribute to many social ills which the Bulgarian society is trying to mend – such as early school dropout, deviant behaviour and crime, drug and alcohol abuse, lower economic productivity due to poor health and insufficient education.
“The investment in the early childhood development reduces the healthcare, educational and social systems’ expenses for dealing with the already existing problems at a later stage. For Our Children Foundation works directly with children experiencing hardships in the early stages of their lives. We provide help where there is an actual risk for the children to be abandoned or separated from their parents due to poverty or disability. Our experience shows that it is not the financial help itself that solves the problems, but the establishment of trust and educating and preparing parents to deal with their child’s problems by themselves. It is time to invest in early childhood development today so that we can have results tomorrow,” remarked For Our Children Foundation’s CEO Ivanka Shalapatova.
A number of studies show that our country loses nearly 0.2% of its GDP because of unrealized potential of childhood development due to poverty, malnutrition and low participation in early childhood education. To ensure the best start in life for every child, which is their right and is prerequisite for a stable economic and social growth, Bulgaria should invest in the development and well-being of its smallest citizens.
Facts about the children in Bulgaria:
- Half of Bulgarian children (52%) live at risk of poverty or social exclusion;
- Bulgaria is among the EU countries with the highest infant mortality;
- 8991 women without health insurance gave birth in 2013;
- 6.5% of the children under five have delayed growth;
- 41% of the children between ages 6 and 11 have anemia;
- For the past 3 years around 2000 children in early age, annually, have gone into social institutions due to poverty or disability;
- In each of the past several years 5800 children have dropped out of school;
- Many children from the poorest families or children with disabilities are left out of the public kindergartens.
What is early childhood development:
Early childhood development includes all possible support for the children so that their rights for survival, protection and care can be realized and their best development is guaranteed. It encompasses areas such as stimulation of the baby and the small child, healthcare and adequate nourishment, early education, support of the family, community development, etc. The first several years of children’s lives have major influence on their development and success later – from good health and school performance to self-respect and social skills.
Why is it important to invest in early childhood development?
The policies for early childhood development guarantee children’s right to life and the opportunity to realize their potential. They are an investment in a country’s future. The integrated programs for the youngest children help for the elimination of disadvantages which is one of the basic ways to fight poverty. The investment in early childhood development has a 10% annual rate of return. Early prevention comes at a much lower cost than the one that would be necessary for overcoming already existing health and social problems.
Translation: For Our Children Foundation