Supporting early child intervention

Early Childhood Development (ECD) and the Thusanani Children’s foundation role in supporting early child intervention

Forwarding note by editor Steuart Pennington:

I am passionate about ECD. During my last six years in JHB I adopted a crèche in Doornkop, SOWETO. While I was there I was able to get four things sorted; nutrition, adequate clothing, sanitation, and the provision of a full-time ECD specialist. The difference it made to the children (aged 2-6) was dramatic. When they ‘graduated’ and arrived at the nearby Primary School they, according to the Principal, had the start they needed to succeed.

This article is by Terryl Mathibedi, Occupational Therapist, Thusanani Childrens Foundation (pic below)

Interesting fact to start off with:-

The national Department of Education defines early childhood development (ECD) as, “The processes by which children from birth to nine years of age grow and thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, morally and socially”. The national Department of Education is responsible for the 5 to 9 year old age cohort, and the Department of Social Development is focused on the birth to 4 year old age cohort. The Department of Health covers the birth to 9 year old age cohort (Department of Education, 2001). There are approximately 6.5 million children in the 0 to 6 year old age cohort. Of these, some 3.8 million children (59.2%) live in circumstances of dire poverty (Department of Social Development, Department of Education & Department of Health, 2004)

Poor early childhood development can most likely be related to deficient nutrition, underprovided health care and a lack of opportunities to engage in physical and cognitive stimulation guided by an adult/caregiver.  When a child’s opportunities to engage with an adult during play is limited he/she also misses out on opportunities to learn new words and be indulged in their natural curiosity about their world and develop a bank of general knowledge. Play is the most important tool for learning. It is a child’s work. Some adults may hold back from engaging children in play. This may be as result of limited experiences by the adult in their own childhood which can lead to difficulties in relating to children appropriately or to fully understand the purpose or role of play in childhood.

When a child has access to age appropriate play opportunities, balanced nutrition, secure attachments to a parental/caregiver figure and necessary health services this will most likely result in increased primary school enrolment with enhanced school performance.

It is anticipated that when children are performing well at school this results in less grade repetitions and drop-out rates which may in turn result in a reduction of juvenile crimes.

Reduced remedial education costs and improved economic and social productivity in adulthood can be related to a supported and positive early childhood experience.

In 2000, a national audit of early childhood development was commissioned by the Department of Education. The findings of this audit revealed that 16% of the 0 to 6 year old child population was enrolled in 23,482 ECD sites across South Africa. These refer to what is commonly known as crèche’s. Of that 16 percent, 21% were 5 – 6 year olds, 15% were 3 – 5 year old and 5% were children under age 3. Less than half of ECD services were provided in rural areas.

A study conducted by the National Development Agency in 2012 concluded that a challenge was the access to early childhood development programs of good quality.

Therefore, any investment that supports the provision of services that addresses early childhood development with the intention to improve the quality and availability of child nutrition and health care, age appropriate play opportunities, safety and secure child parent/caregiver attachments will produce significant social, education and economic returns to society, far outweighing the returns on other forms of human capital investment.

Early Childhood Development in South Africa refers to a comprehensive approach to policies and programmes for children from birth to 9 years of age, with the active participation of their parents and caregivers. Its purpose is to protect the child’s rights to develop his or her full cognitive, emotional, social and physical potential.

Thusanani Children’s Foundation (TCF) offers what can be termed as early childhood intervention (ECI). We offer occupational therapy, speech therapy and medical care to children aged 0-6 living in children’s homes.   Often, children who are placed in homes present with life circumstances that put them at risk of delayed development i.e. poor prenatal care, premature birth, abandonment, complex medical needs and poor attachments prior to placement in a children’s home. Due to their circumstances, these children are often marginalised and do not have easy access to the specialised care that they often require.

Dr Janet Lumb FCPaeds (SA)

Environmental factors also influence child development in children’s homes. These factors are the ratio of caregiver to child – in most cases 5:1 and the availability of regular, quality stimulation and resources that support stimulation.   In many instances these children do not receive the individual care and attention that they would within a family.  Therefore, they may not develop the secure attachment bond that ensures that a child will feel secure, understood, and be calm enough to experience optimal development of his or her nervous system.

Occupational therapists often refer to the key areas of child development as physical, social, emotional, cognitive, perceptual and language.  These are key for the foundation of skills that prepare children for school and for life.

  • Physical development includes physical strength, balance, for writing, computer skills, fastening buttons, using cutlery etc.
  • Language development includes communication, turn taking, cooperative and imaginative play and many other important life skills.
  • For a child to acknowledge their own emotions and feelings requires an adult who knows him or her and is interested and able to acknowledge and help the child understand these feelings.
  • Cognition and perceptual development help children to make sense of their worlds through understanding how things work together, their own relationship to objects in space (under, over, next to etc.).
  • Positive feedback and encouragement from a caregiver / parent helps to build self-esteem and confidence in ones abilities and allows a safe space in which to learn from mistakes and to try again.

Our therapy often comes from a ‘remediate’ approach where we address problem areas in development as a result of the above mentioned. We seek to improve the developmental and health status of orphaned and vulnerable children who live in children’s homes.

Our therapists support each child’s optimal development either through direct therapy with a child or through caregiver training.

Our role has evolved to include networking within the baby residential care sector to share resources between centers.

We have recently introduced short talks and training workshops which advocate for reducing the environmental factors that can cause developmental delays within children’s homes.  These presentations have created a space where questions can be asked and issues can be problem solved.  It also creates opportunity for the voices of these vulnerable children to be heard.  Acknowledgment of the caregivers is also important in these centers as the caregivers and homes staff are often the unseen heroes in these environments and they are the ones with the power to makes positive changes for the benefit of the children.

Physical Address: 3rd Floor,The Children’s Memorial Institute (CMI),13 Joubert Street Ext, cnr Empire Road ,Braamfontein
Postal Address: P O Box 92117,Norwood,2117
Telephone: (011) 484 3128

Source: Terryl Mathibedi