Challenges Facing Early Childhood Development

Social, political, economic and environmental inequalities contribute to the many challenges that the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector faces in South Africa. Establishing and operating an ECD facility, particularly in under resourced communities, is further challenged by interpersonal differences, funding support, infrastructure requirements, skills and capacity of crèche staff, community influences, and government regulations.

Interpersonal Differences

The operation of a crèche is heavily dependent on either those who own the crèche, or an elected governing body. Although there are many organisations that offer management assistance, lasting positive change is only possible with cooperation of the owner or governing body, crèche staff, and parents of children enrolled. Interpersonal issues can be detrimental to any organisation and cause it to fail from the inside out. Specifically, groups having “high levels of ethnic heterogeneity and residential instability are believed to undermine social networks and shared values, resulting in social disorganization” (Burchinal et al, 2008). Residential instability as well as ethnic diversity is common to many informal settlements in South Africa and contributes to differences in beliefs and willingness to support ECD efforts. Trust is a key factor in community support. When common values are shared, trust cultivates in mutual understanding and common goals. The community and crèche have to develop trust and mutual respect for the benefit of the children. Parents in marginalized communities are less likely to have the support of peers to help provide education or childcare assistance (Burchinal et al, 2008). It becomes a role of community leaders, crèche staff, and caregivers to maintain the “social cohesion” of information about the crèche and to promote the importance of early childhood development.

Funding Support

Parent fees provide the majority of funding for ECD centres. The Department of Social Development (DSD) also provides subsidies for registered centres, which gives the centre a set amount of funds per child per day. The DSD also provides funding for ECD through Non-Profit Organisations. The amount of funding varies from province to province. Based on a budget sheet from 2012/2013, it was estimated that the Western Cape spends around R384,764,000 per year on ECD. This falls in the middle of the range of the nine South Africa provinces (Atmore et al., 2012).

Infrastructure requirements

Infrastructure is one of the leading challenges of ECD centres not becoming registered or having substandard performance. Many centres function without the basic amenities of electricity, running water, or means of sanitation. Eric Atmore, Director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development, explained that a nation-wide ECD audit in 2000 showed that 8% of ECD centres in South Africa do not meet the basic infrastructure requirements set by the Department of Education (Atmore, 2013). Lack of infrastructure presents significant safety risks and health code violations, and causes poor service quality. The Department of Social Development does not provide a subsidy for physical building improvements or renovations, and the informal settlements in need of ECD often do not have access to basic infrastructural services. Therefore, communities have the burden of paying for costs associated with building and or renovations (Atmore et al., 2012), and the provision of basic amenities.

Skills and Capacity of Crèche Staff

Having a skilled ECD practitioner in the workplace was not heavily regarded in the past, but it is slowly becoming a necessity. A study done in the Western Cape by ECD service researchers showed that only 47% of the practitioners responsible for older children (3-5 years) had any form of ECD qualifications (Atmore, 2013). The Department of Social Development has set minimum standards for ECD teachers and caretakers. Today, ECD practitioners are required to obtain training as ECD educators (ECD Level 4, Further Education and Training Certificate) (DSD, 2015). This training provides basic skills to improve the quality of ECD services offered for the development of young children.

Community Influences

Integrating ECD in homes is another struggle faced specifically in informal settlements. Reiterating and practicing what the children learn while at the crèche will enhance the effectiveness of ECD. A Family Outreach program in the community of Gugulethu, implemented by the CECD in 2011, successfully shows how the intervention can have a positive impact on caregiver’s attitude and role towards child development. This programme reached out to a group of families without access to ECD centre programming. During the follow-up assessment in 2014, 67% of children attended a centre-based ECD programme. The role caregivers played in their children’s development was also significantly different; approximately 30% more caregivers read and told stories to their children twice or more in a week and over 40% more caregivers fed their children more than four times a day. The percentage of caregivers worried about the safety of children in the area stayed relatively the same, at around 83% (CECD, 2014). This shows that although big impacts can be made in caregivers providing their children with development opportunities to thrive, there are still external factors in the community that can play a role in the safety of the children.

Difficulties present within the community can be strongly influenced by the social challenges. Poverty in South African informal settlements correlates to the scarcity of food and resources that is less of an issue in communities with a higher average income. The complex state of poverty can be observed as a range of characteristics including chronic hunger, inadequate housing, low income, unemployment, and low living standards (Barbarin et al., 2013). The effects of poverty can be devastating to child development. Negative living conditions attribute to chronic malnutrition, illnesses, slow cognitive development, insufficient psychological functioning, academic failures, and future unemployment. Recognizing the value of proper nutrition in body and brain development during early childhood (Aber et al., 1997), crèches serve as an important source of food for children in under-resourced communities in South Africa.

On a larger scale, poverty can be linked to community violence, unstructured family life, and substance abuse (Aber et al.,1997). Children of low-income and impoverished areas are more susceptible to maltreatment due to these social difficulties. Resulting maltreatment includes a range of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. The presence of violence can inhibit capabilities of success both in child development and the surrounding community. Phyfer and Wakefield (2015), violence and crime prevention researchers working with the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, explore the path to integrate violence prevention into ECD programmes. This includes promotion of positive disciplinary actions and creating a realm of respect for a child’s right to education by working with caregivers to cultivate healthy relationships. These researchers argue that violence prevention should give more attention to developing relationships with caregivers in terms of support and education of their own. Caregivers are the first line of people who can promote healthy development, and play an important role in limiting effects of community violence on children. If caregivers are able to emotionally handle danger in a healthy way, this will more likely be reciprocated by their children (Barbarin, 2013). Emotional and educational support programmes available for coping with the effects of violence can influence how violence impacts child development. Integrating violence prevention into ECD can promote a healthier developmental lifestyle for children, and has the potential to decrease rates of crime and violence in South Africa. ECD programmes will have the greatest impact if they are adapting and working to meet each child’s personal needs; something that can be a struggle in impoverished areas like Flamingo Heights due to lack of funding, crèche supplies, and teachers.

Government Regulations

Regulations surrounding ECD centres in South Africa pose many challenges for centres throughout informal settlements. One of the biggest problems with the registration process is the cost to register. Many of these centres trying to start up and operate in very low income areas cannot afford these fees, and therefore fail to register, which in turn leads to them not meeting government regulations. Other regulations are just not feasible in certain informal settlements, such as available (safe and enclosed) outdoor play areas for the children. The requirements are two square metres per child. Many of these settlements are so dense with structures that this is just not an option. Again, that centre would fail to meet the regulations and therefore fail to register as an early childhood development centre. For the sake of centres in informal settlements getting registered, there needs to be some modification of the governmental regulations to ensure these centres have the chance to become formal ECD facilities.


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