The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the lives of children and their families all over the world especially the poorest and the most marginalized ones. Many countries have taken unprecedented steps to contain the virus. COVID-19 shutdowns had led to closure of schools and childcare centers and suspensions of non-essential healthcare services for sick children and children with special needs, work from home arrangements and loss of jobs. There are huge disruption to early learning, caregiving and livelihoods, causing health, mental and economic stress to young children and their families.
To gain a better understanding on the impact of COVID-19 on young children and the early childhood development (ECD) in Asia Pacific for advocacy and development of relevant strategies/interventions , Soristic Impact Collective has supported Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) in a commissioned survey to get insights from ECD practitioners in Asia Pacific. Below are some of the key findings:
- More than 50% of ECD respondents in the Asia-Pacific region assess families as under pandemic induced stress – stressed and very much stressed.
- Over 50% of respondents in Asia-Pacific region assess families to be facing challenges in coping under the heightened stress.
- Income losses, school/ECD center closures, and prolonged home stay are top reasons for family stress in the AsiaPacific region. Food insecurity is also significantly contributing to stress for families in India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh
- Day care and early learning services for children from 0 to 8 years old are the most disrupted services for children in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Television and social media are the top two channels to reach out to young children, their families and the caregivers. Social media and online platforms are the top two channels for reaching out to policymakers.
- COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the nurturing care of young children.
Young children face challenge in accessing basic healthcare services and experience disruption in accessing childhood immunisation programme. Food security is particularly challenging for the poorest with increased hunger and malnutrition. On the learning front, learning routines are disrupted. When online learning mode is available, the poorest are disadvantaged families by lack of internet connectivity and/or technological equipment or support. There is also less quality learning at home with ill-equipped and illiterate parents/caregivers. Some young children also face higher risks at home with domestic violence and abuse. There are also others that lack parental supervision at home with parents juggling working from home and caregiving.
- Young children from marginalised families and communities bear a heavy ‘pandemic burden’.
The negative impacts due to COVID-19 are compounded by poverty, migrant status, poor living conditions, special needs, and other discriminatory factors such as gender, ethnicity, religion and language. Young children from these backgrounds face bigger challenges which exacerbated inequalities.
To ensure young children are supported especially those from the poorest and marginalized backgrounds, the following responses are advocated
1. Focus on family support, parenting and caregiving, particularly recognising the critical role of responsive caregiving and that parental stress and anxiety affect children’s wellbeing, learning, safety and security.
2. Address equity issues in post-pandemic ECD, particularly the impacts on young children living with poor and migrant families and those who might have been excluded on the basis of location, gender, ethnicity and language, faith, disability.
3. Support intersectoral policy reviews and reforms informed by evidence and lessons from the impacts of the pandemic on the ECD sector and its inter-linkages with other sectors and make the ECD sector and systems resilient.
4. Affirm the primacy of investing in young children and protect ECD budgets to preserve child development gains and reverse losses from the pandemic, and to forestall costs of inaction for the well-being of the youngest citizens of society.
Together we can work for holistic and inclusive early childhood development, protecting our gains in the SDGs, reversing the losses as a result of the pandemic, and transforming ECD postCOVID to be equitable, sustainable and resilient.
(Adapted from Soristic report for ARNEC https://www.soristic.asia/publications/full-narrative-report-on-arnec-rapid-survey-perspectives-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-young-children-and-ecd-in-the-asia-pacific-region/).