How do you make early childhood intervention into a more efficient system for both parents and children? How do you maximize the positive effects of the assistance provided to families with children with disabilities? These and other questions were among those discussed at the first Regional Conference of its kind held in Minsk, Belarus, on 5-6 June, 2018.
Realizing the rights of children in the first years of their life and enhancing the chances for them to reach their full potential became an overarching theme of the Regional Conference for Europe and Central Asia on Early Childhood Intervention: Strengthening Systems and Empowering Families. Other topics on the agenda included good regional and international practices in family-oriented interventions, with specific emphasis on families as active partners in the system of continuous care. The experts also discussed the vital role of parents in development and implementation of policies and services for the early childhood intervention (ECI).
The first years of life prove to be critical for a child’s development and lay a lifelong foundation for well-being, health status, learning abilities and social-emotional behavior. Central and Eastern European and CIS countries are home to around 5.1 million children with disabilities, of which 3.6 million are not counted in social registers, hence, becoming invisible not only to the society but also to the assistance providers.
The regional conference brought together voices from the early childhood intervention sector from the ECA region and beyond. Policy makers, practitioners and researchers from Belarus and other European and CIS countries shared their experience and discussed strategies to strengthen and scale up ECI services.
‘The first ECI Conference organized by UNICEF Regional Office together with UNICEF Belarus Country Office and in collaboration with the Government of Belarus and the financial support of the government of the Russian Federation, brought together 150 experts and participants from some 20 countries from Europe and Central Asia. The Conference provided an excellent forum for knowledge exchange and allowed participants to explore challenging questions related to reaching and addressing young children with developmental difficulties and disabilities. One of the highlights of the Conference was the introduction by the designer of the app “Livox”, the app that can be used by children with disabilities to communicate with those around them’, shared her opinion Deepa Grover, Senior Regional Advisor, Early Childhood Development, UNICEF Regional Office for ECA.
UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Region comprises 21 countries and entities – most of them in transition to becoming high/middle income countries. Over the last decade the UNICEF ECA Region has become increasingly more engaged in advocating for the human rights in young children and adolescents as well as of children with disabilities. The Early Childhood Development has also been an extensive part in achieving Sustainable Development Goals and endorsed by countries throughout the world. This Conference creates a bridge that would allow exchange of expertise as well as joining efforts for the future of every child in the Region.
Speaking of the conference, UNICEF in Belarus Representative Dr. Rashed Mustafa Sarwar noted, ‘This is the first conference of its kind, the one that unites countries of Europe and Central Asia. Belarus has experience in the field that it can share, but there is also a potential for learning more, and that is where the international expertise will benefit the country. Our goal is to create an ECI system available to every child by 2020. This would be the way to reduce the number of cases of disabilities as well as the seriousness of its effects’.
Grigory Ustinov of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia mentioned the importance of the international cooperation, ‘Early Childhood Intervention is an innovative approach for our region, and we would like to show the positive effects of early integration of a child in the society. ECI helps families to adapt to their new circumstances and provides support for teachers who can address the special needs of child in a better way. The project we are supporting is aimed at developing a systematic approach to the use of the Early Childhood Intervention methods in Belarus’.
Plenty of new connections between the many international participants and experts were established at the Conference, and, hopefully, more study visits and work exchanges that ever before are to come.