What is Early Childhood Development Support program?
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. Strategy for the Early Development and Preschool Education in Serbia identified parental support as priority, but until 2012 there were no such programs. In other words, there were no specific focus on parenting competencies and the most vulnerable groups.
Why is it important?
According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, there are only 41.36% of the children in the kindergarten. Also, there are more than 14,000 children 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 become of age for the mandatory preschool program.
One of the paradox is that the children of unemployed parents are not on the priority list for enrolment. However, these children come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. They remain excluded from early educational programs, just at the time when they need it most.
Another paradox is that Roma children and children with disabilities are on the priority list for kindergartens. However, the pre-school system has no outreach strategies so they remain invisible. Therefore, the important role of CSOs is to help local institutions to reach and enrol these children. The problem applies to all communities in Serbia.
What do we do in EDC?
In 2012, with the support of the UNICEF office in Belgrade, Serbian Parents Network established Early Development Support Centers (EDC) in Belgrade and Nis.
The main focus is on specific programs for parents of children aged 0-5 years, and especially children with disabilities. These children usually do not attend any pre-school activity. Moreover, children from marginalized groups do not have access to stimulative setting. They are mainly socially deprived children, children from rural areas and members of ethnic minorities. They do not have opportunities to develop fully their potential, abilities and interests. That is mainly because their parents are unable to provide them appropriate conditions for optimal development.
Our idea was to design set of workshops for both children and parents. The main goal is to increase parental competencies and provide stimulative environment for children.
There are three types of activities:
- Play and Learn programme (joint activities with children and parents),
- Lectures for parents (provided by psychologists, paediatricians, gynaecologists, dentists, social workers, etc.) and
- Peer-to-peer workshops.
Overall, 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%). 92% of them did not attend any activities other than the activities in the EDC.
Additionally, over 100 volunteers are participating from the beginning, mostly students from Belgrade and Nis University (psychology, pedagogy, special education, etc)
Early Childhood Development (EDC) Centres are NGO running service. Since April 2014 there are four EDC Centres running:
- Belgrade, led 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”).
Programme was open in Belgrade until March 2020 and closed for now due to Covid-19 pandemic situation in Serbia.
For more information please visit: Fact sheet, Early Development Center, Serbia