The main goal of the Early Childhood Development Support Centers – EDC program is to support positive parenting thus ensuring stimulative developmental environment for children 0-6 that are not enrolled in kindergartens or any other early development program with a particular focus on children with disability.
Providing stimulating environment for an optimal child development has been one of most important factors for cognitive, emotional, physical and social development in early childhood. Although Strategy for the Early Development and Preschool Education in Serbia identified development of the early education and parental support centers as one of the priorities in this area, until 2012 there were no programs in Serbia targeted specifically towards strengthening of the parenting competencies in early childhood that are available to the most vulnerable groups. There are different activities mainly focused on the cultural, entertainment, sports and recreational activities for children in the general population whose parents are able to participate in price or fully pay.
According to the estimations of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia there are only 41.36% of the children who are enrolled in preschool programs and almost 14,000 children are on the waiting lists for the daycare/kindergarten. However, more than 280,000 children up to 5.5 years of age, stay out of the early education system until they are enrolled in the mandatory preschool program.
One of the problem lies in the paradox that the children of unemployed parents are not on the priority list for enrolment, while keeping in mind that precisely these children come from poor socio-economic backgrounds and remain as underprivileged out of stimulating and educational programs, just at the time when they need it most.
Another problem is that Roma children and children with disabilities are on the priority list for kindergartens, but pre-school system has no outreach strategies or general support to offer to these families so they remain invisible. Here we see the important role of CSOs in cooperation with the local institutions can significantly contribute to outreach strategy and enrolment these children and their families. The problem applies to almost all communities in Serbia.
In 2012, with the support of the UNICEF office in Belgrade, Serbian Parents Network established Early Development Support Centers (EDC) in Belgrade and Nis. Implementation of EDC program was based on the principles of the Canadian Ontario Early Development Center program. In the first phase, the intervention model was developed and adapted in accordance with the specific needs of the EDC users, parents and caregivers, which were continuously assessed during the project implementation.
What was recognized as necessary were specific programs for parents of children aged 0-5 years, and especially children with disabilities who are usually not included in the pre-school activities and parents do not possess the specific knowledge, experience and competence to stimulate and educate their children. Moreover, children from marginalized groups (socially deprived children, children from rural areas, members of ethnic minorities) do not have access to stimulative setting; they do not have opportunities to develop fully their potential, abilities and interests because their parents are unable to provide them appropriate conditions for optimal development, mainly due to economic status, but many other reasons. Parents of those children are deprived of services aimed at strengthening their parenting competence and educational programs on the importance of and ways to stimulate children’s early development.
The set of workshops and activities targeted mainly toward increase of parental competencies was developed: two days per week three main types of workshops were held: Play and Learn programme, group lectures from various experts and personal consultations (psychologist, paediatricians, gynaecologists, dentists, social workers, etc.) and peer-to-peer counselling. Overall, in the period from September 2012 until May 2013, 296 workshops were held in two cities and so far 469 families applied to participate in the program. Program encompassed 17% of single-parents families, 10% economically disadvantaged, and 8%of children have developmental disabilities. Majority of the children that participated in the program were between 2 and 4 years of age (68%), and 92% did not attend any activities other than the activities in the EDC.
Additionally over 60 volunteers are participating from the beginning, mostly students from Belgrade and Nis University (psychology, pedagogy, defectologyetc)
Two one-day trainings (acredited) for worshop coordinators were held.
EDC Centres are set as NGO running service, and since April 2014 there are four EDC Centres running: In Belgrade by NGO “Parent”- Serbian Parents Network (three locations), Niš (NGO “United in diversity”), Ruma (NGO “Ru-Ma-Dam”) and Novi Sad (NGO “Know How Center”).