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CSI & Philanthropy Company news South Africa

Bridging the ECD gap through parent and caregiver programmes

With South Africa at a significant milestone, 30 years of democracy – this piece is a reflection on the 2024 State of the Nation Address (Sona) that was delivered by His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa in February that prompts one to consider how the incoming administration, following National Elections, will address and prioritise early childhood development (ECD).
Bridging the ECD gap through parent and caregiver programmes

In his address, the president indicated that ECD is a matter of national priority.

However, this does not correspond with the national budget, which shows significant provincial budget cuts to the provision of ECD services. It is no secret that the budget left much to be desired for those working in the early childhood development (ECD) sector, which confirmed the contradiction in national messaging versus spending.

A statement by Ilifa la Bantwana and Real Reform for ECD highlights that the ECD sector is beset by chronic underfunding, inadequate infrastructure, low wages, and poor working conditions. Only a third of 3-5-year-olds have access to a formal ECD/ELP programme. Of those that do, 57% fail to “Thrive By Five”, starting school on the back foot because of inadequate nutrition and delayed physical and cognitive development.

A significant portion of children who require access to quality ECD services remain in the care of parents and caregivers, and in instances where they are running an ECD programme, they are mostly unregistered; this renders them unable to access any support from the state.

It is estimated that close to one million children are attending ECD programmes in over 50,000 unregistered centres across the country. The implications of this reality for early learning and development are many:

  • Without access to the ECD subsidy, caregivers and day mothers are limited in what they can provide to ensure good nutrition for the children in their care.
  • There is limited access to learning material and resources.
  • There are no opportunities for capacity-building which can improve the quality of teaching in their respective home environments.

Added to this, there is the fact that a significant portion of parents of children rely on the child support grant (CSG), which remains minimal and unable to support parents to address all the needs of their children effectively.

As a result, many caregivers and day mothers who rely on parents to pay small fees to provide nutrition and early learning opportunities are yet again compromised.

Parents and caregivers of young children continue to find themselves in a desperate position – having to choose between sending their children to formal ECDs that are struggling and chronically underfunded or keeping children at home with the hopes that they will learn organically through their environment.

This dilemma is also compounded by the desperation of parents and caregivers to provide food, shelter, and healthcare for their children, forcing them to seek work opportunities often outside their immediate home environments.

The Department of Basic Education’s 2030 ECD Strategy points to the need to support and expand on community-based parenting programmes, which can serve as a buffer amid the budget cuts facing the ECD sector.

It is recognised that these programmes have the potential to support under-served and vulnerable populations at low cost as they require little infrastructure and usually harness the community’s existing assets. As piloted by countries like Ecuador and Cuba, these programmes can contribute to the skills development and employment landscape, particularly for women.

Evidently, there is a need for parenting programmes that can help to bridge the gap that continues to grow. Communities can benefit from these programmes as they can provide valuable support to parents and caregivers through capacity building, information-sharing and occasionally, the creation of work opportunities.

Minimal investment into these programmes has the potential to yield significant benefits and provide families and communities with alternative options for addressing the early learning and childhood development needs of children.

The aRe Bapaleng programme, which was initiated in 2020 by Seriti Institute, is an example of a parenting programme that can reach and support families and communities to respond to the early childhood development needs of children.

By applying a multi-stakeholder approach, the programme leverages its partnership with the private sector, government, and civil society to provide parents and caregivers with resources, information, and capacity building.

To date, the programme has reached 44,661 parents and caregivers and 71,730 children. Additionally, the programme has supported the employment of over 5,000 young people through the implementation of public employment programmes, including the social employment fund (SEF) and the national youth service (NYS).

For parent and caregiver programmes like aRe Bapaleng to continue making a difference, support and investment by the state, foundations and private sector CSI is paramount to enabling just and equitable outcomes for children regardless of their background or socioeconomic family status.

These programmes present a cost-efficient way to achieve the desired early learning outcomes and ensure that no child is left behind. Beyond this, it is evident that the ECD sector needs to start thinking creatively about alternative fundraising strategies to ensure continued impact.

Evidently, the status quo approach to funding is no longer viable and points to the pressing urgency to identify how the sector can leverage cost-sharing models and public-private partnerships and create jobs for parents and caregivers to increase their affordability and gain access to quality early learning and childhood development programmes.

About Rebotile Matoane

Rebotile Matoane is the aRe Bapaleng Programme Lead at Seriti Institute.
The Social Employment Fund
The Social Employment Fund is providing 55,000 temporary jobs in areas like health, education, nutrition and food security. These jobs skill marginalised individuals in workplace preparation and foster entrepreneurship.
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