A workshop with key provincial stakeholders was recently held in the Ugu municipality of KZN to create a shared vision of what ECD services could look like in Ugu by 2016. The participants took part in a creative visioning exercise in which they were tasked with imagining Ugu as a district where young children are able to realise their full potential.
During an intensive workshop process held over two days in October 2013, participants began by delving into their own childhoods, in an endeavor to approach the topic from the point of view of the child. Taking up pencils and crayons, in some cases for the first time in decades, participants drew scenes from their childhoods, re-engaging with the emotional and family dimensions of the early years of their lives. In so doing they were able to move the discussion away from the purely technical aspects of ECD provision towards a much more holistic conversation about what rural children really need.
Seven key themes emerged from this process and the participants then broke into groups, each tackling one of the themes. They were required to think about what ECD services could look like in 2016, who the key roleplayers would be, and what kinds of relationships would have to be in place for their vision to be realised.
Antenatal services, care and support: The Ilifa approach sees ECD as commencing at conception. In Ugu, all pregnant women will have access to, and be able to book early for, a package of antenatal services. Progress is already being made towards the prevention of the transmission of HIV from mother to child (PMTCT) in Ugu, with all key stakeholders aware and supportive of the PMTCT programme, so it is expected that substantial progress will have been achieved by 2016.
Support for caregivers: Parenting programmes for prospective parents, including men, with special attention paid to single parents, young mothers and adoptive and foster parents, will be in place. Special attention will be given to preparing parents for the possibility of having children with special needs. Government departments, NGOs and the Red Cross will all be required to ensure coordinated training programmes for community workers, and community outreach programmes will be well marketed and appropriately communicated.
Social services: Beginning with the registration of every child within 30 days of delivery, social services will include an integrated training and development approach to social delivery, aimed at empowering families and communities, with more social workers, child care workers and community caregivers in place, as well as well-trained education specialists to identify signs of risk and vulnerability and barriers to learning.
A campaign to encourage community participation in the care and protection of children will be an important element of the vision, alongside community policing and child protection forums, a poverty alleviation programme, and an insistence that every child who qualifies for the Child Support Grant accesses and benefits from it. Parents of children with special needs will also be informed about accessing the care dependency grant and other resources, and educated about the special care of their children.
Early Childhood Stimulation: By 2016, all ECD centres in Ugu will meet minimum norms and standards, registered on a database of ECD centres, and graded according to level of functioning. Their progress will be monitored and evaluated, with a standard admission form used by all ECD centres to ensure that the same information on all children is collected and effective referral systems are built.
The children at these centres will receive a nutritious meal every day and be cared for by well-capacitated practitioners who are trained to respond age-appropriately to the needs of the children their care.
ECD forums will be supported and formalised to include planning and reporting, as well as outreach to non-centre based services, and a clear policy and approach to ECD fee structures, allowing for a sliding scale of affordability and a funding mechanism to support children who cannot pay fees, will be in place.
Ugu will submit a strong budget bid to Treasury for sufficient funding for early stimulation services, including centre and non-centre based ECD activities, mobile libraries and age-appropriate educational resources. Importantly, there will be no under-age learners in Grade R.
Child health services: There will be good access to maternal, child and women’s health services and the full spectrum of services will be available through all health facilities, with a seamless flow of referral, across all departments and levels of health. Emergency medical rescue services will be readily available. A holistic package of care will be offered, including nutrition programmes and growth monitoring services in place in all ECD centres.
The Phila Mntwana programme, undertaken in partnership with Operation Sukuma Sakhe (OSS), the Department of Health, and BroadReach Healthcare, will be implemented properly in all 84 wards in Ugu, with good referral systems in place to other health facilities. Phila Mntwana is designed to provide comprehensive prevention and health promotion package for children at community level through community leadership, using the “War Room” approach. There will be an emphasis on the simple diagnosis of the status of children in the community, achieved by monthly monitoring at community level of the nutritional and health status of all children under five.
Infrastructure: There will be improved access to clean and safe drinking water and all ECD centres will have taps and/or Jojo tanks. Every child will have proper shelter at home and safe access to and from communities on safe roads or footpaths. All ECD sites will meet basic structural requirements, and children will have access to safe playing and recreational facilities in communities. ECD infrastructure will be funded via the Municipal Infrastructure Grant, with ECD firmly located and budgeted within the District’s Integrated Development Plans.
The workshop arose out of a partnership, formalised in March 2013, between Ilifa and the Kwazulu-Natal government to improve ECD services for young children in the province. A number of provincial government departments and the Premier’s office are involved, and the programme builds on ECD work already currently underway in the province. It is envisaged that the ground-breaking work being done in Ugu will provide a prototype for other municipalities and provinces to follow.