Regional forum to focus on early childhood care, development

Early childhood care and development will be explored from all angles at a four-day regional forum now ongoing in St Vincent and the Grenadines, a press release from the CARICOM Secretariat at Turkeyen said.

The forum, which began on Sunday and runs until Thursday, is organised by the CARICOM Secretariat, in partnership with the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI), and with support from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the Commonwealth Secretariat, Parenting Partners Caribbean and the University of the West Indies (UWI).

According to the release, the primary objective is to identify practical strategies to support the development of the most vulnerable children in the zero to three age cohort within CARICOM. It is anticipated that the forum will lay the basis for the mainstreaming of early childhood programming for children zero to three, particularly the most vulnerable, through the ministries of health, education and social development.

This will be pursued as a core strategy for strengthening human resource development through effective parenting support, learning opportunities, quality care environments and early intervention.

In underscoring the importance of the formative years, Patricia McPherson, CARICOM Secretariat’s Deputy Programme Manager for Education, pointed to recent studies which demonstrated that the first three years of the child are crucial in determining future growth and development and that “the quality of a child’s early environment and the availability of appropriate experiences during sensitive periods of development, are crucial in determining the strength or weakness of the brain’s architecture, which in turn determines health, cognitive abilities and self-regulation.”

Against this backdrop, therefore, early childhood and health practitioners, policymakers, representatives from social development and parenting agencies as well as other key stakeholders in early childhood education are deliberating on defining the relationship between quality early childhood programming for children zero to three and the priority development concerns of human and social development, school ‘readiness’ and achievement.

The release said further that the forum is to be enhanced by feature presentations from several leading practitioners and researchers within the Caribbean regional early childhood sector. The resource persons will include UWI Professor of Child Health, Child Development and Behaviour, Department of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Child Health, Dr. Maureen Samms-Vaughan, who will present on the “scientific evidence for the critical importance of supporting development of children zero to three, particularly the most vulnerable;” Professor of Nutrition, also from UWI, Susan Walker, who will respond to the question of “what makes the difference in supporting the development of children zero to three” and Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Registrar Dr Didacus Jules, who will examine the “rationale for investing in children zero to three and the consequences for education and life outcomes.”
Another major highlight of the Forum is the official launch of the region’s first indigenous foundation dedicated to early childhood development – The Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC) – at a special reception hosted by the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

The FDCC was established to provide much-needed assistance to regional governments in mainstreaming high-quality early childhood development services within existing social structures, ensuring that children get the foundation they deserve.

In the meantime, McPherson cautioned that “the long-term impact of the Forum will be dependent on the quality and sustainability of the follow-up at the national and regional levels”.

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