The Developing Families Project

Leading world organizations advocate for investing in young children. In a 2007 policy statement, the World Bank employed Nobel Prize winner James Heckman’s findings to substantiate its call to invest in Early Childhood Development (ECD). It mentions that the benefits of educating very early “encourage greater social equity, increase the efficacy of other investments” and that “integrated programs for young children can modify the effects of socioeconomic and gender-related inequities, some of the most entrenched causes of poverty” worldwide. UNICEF has also developed a strategic plan for 2006-2009 to invest in children as a way to reduce poverty worldwide. UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2007, Strong Foundations (UNESCO, 2006), urged all countries to “develop national early childhood policy to promote the holistic development of young children.” Subsequently, the World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP) has acknowledged that the lack of training for infant and toddler staff is a major barrier to quality care in developing countries, and made this their number one strategic goal for the coming year.

Due to widespread poverty and the HIV pandemic in South Africa, an increasing number of primary caregivers are working outside the home, resulting in a growing number of infants and toddlers being placed in daily group care. In these care situations, most of the practitioners have little formal schooling and minimal, if any, training in infant and toddler development. The majority of Black township facilities for babies and toddlers are small, tight spaces where children have limited access to toys or opportunities for interaction and relationship building, both of which are key ingredients for healthy development. At about 3 years of age, the children in ECD programs - sometimes located in the very same preschool - have activities, materials, and adult-child ratios that encourage learning and social interaction. In response to the noted dearth of quality programs for infants and toddlers, one practitioner commented that “they were waiting to be 3.”

The Developing Families Project (DFP) is a 3-year intervention/evaluation that uses the preschool as the “port of entry” for training ECD non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in infant and toddler development, health, education and care, as well as local community collaboration and advocacy for this age group. Trainees are selected from local NGOs, preschool practitioners, parents of babies and toddlers, and other community stakeholders. Project objectives are to:

  • Improve the quality of group care for infants and toddlers;
  • Integrate HIV prevention and stigma reduction education into the preschool community and beyond;
  • Strengthen NGO capacity to train and support preschool practitioners and parents; and
  • Motivate NGOs, preschools, and communities to advocate for the unique strengths and needs of infants and toddlers and their families.

The DFP team is led by Dr. Faith Lamb-Parker and Dr. Virgina Casper. Drs. Lamb-Parker and Casper are faculty of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Bank Street College, respectively. Since 2000, Dr. Lamb-Parker has been working with Ntataise, a well-established South African NGO. Ntataise has conducted ECD training with over 100,000 preschool practitioners, who in turn have taught and cared for approximately 350,000 children nationwide. Her work with them includes community development and empowerment, staff and parent education, and organizational capacity-building. Dr. Casper has worked in the Western Cape collaborating on an Infant/Toddler Caregiver Curriculum with Grassroots NGOs, taking the project national through a Train the Trainer program. She also worked in an Infant Mental Health service in Khayelitsha Township, Cape Town.