Early Childhood Development: As Latin America/Caribbean Countries Invest, Does Quality Follow?

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The stimuli that children are exposed to from the beginning of life to age 5 have the greatest impact on development, and they define the health, personality and intellectual capacity of each child. This is why it is crucial to invest early and well in child development. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are investing more and more in early child development, but what do we know about these initiatives?

A new Inter-American Development Bank publication, titled Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean, offers a few answers.
The study examines public programs, child care centers and parenting services, in 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a focus on children ages 0 to 3. It confirms that child development services have experienced a major expansion in coverage: enrollment in the programs grew by 117% in the past five years. However, this expansion has not always been accompanied by the necessary resources to ensure the quality of services. For example, despite the rapid growth in the number of children served, staffing increased only 61%.
Another parameter that documents this trend is that the number of children per adult is, on average, a caregiver for every six children under the age of 2 years. However, the recommendation is that there should not be no more than three children per adult for infants up to 1 year, and no more than four children per adult for those aged 1-3 years.
The study also makes a thorough investigation of the costs of various child development services.
The LAC region offers child care services for children ages 0 to 3 using a wide range of modalities. The Andean countries have achieved broad coverage by implementing community-based programs. For example, a mother cares for and feeds groups of eight to ten children in her own home, and she receives a subsidy from the government for this service. By contrast, services in the Southern Cone largely operate through formal institutions where children are grouped by age and cared for by professional staff. It has been estimated that the annual cost per child for child care services totals US$1,239, while the average annual cost per child for parenting programs totals US$247. The analysis also concluded that, despite the recent expansion in the coverage of these services, there is still much work to do to reach the most vulnerable populations.
The study found that strict adherence to health standards at the centers is critical in many cases. Health and safety issues are monitored at just 44% of centers. Because the immune systems of young children are not fully developed, this lack of oversight poses a particular health risk for children.
Lastly, given the high rates of malnutrition present in the region, child care services could offer another means for the monitoring of growth and development. However, only 4 out of 10 programs provide children with micronutrients, which is a missed opportunity.
These are just some of the topics explored in depth. The first part of our study is devoted to a comparative analysis of the programs in the region. In the second part we review, country by country, the characteristics of its major programs. We hope this book constitutes a useful reference and a working tool for policymakers in the region in the design and reform of policies and programs for early childhood.
This post originally appeared on the Inter-American Development Bank blog.

Follow the World Bank education team at @WBG_Education.


Ferdinando Regalia

Manager of the Social Sector, Inter-American Development Bank

María Caridad Araujo

Lead Econimist in Social Protection, Inter-American Development Bank

Florencia Lopez Boo

Senior Economist in Social Protection, Inter-American Bank

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