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Supporting young children during COVID-19 and beyond

March 9, 2021 by PATH

Elizabeth Lule, executive director of the Early Childhood Development Action Network, discusses rebuilding stronger systems to help children and their families thrive.

Elizabeth Lule is executive director of the Early Childhood Development Action Network, which joined PATH at the beginning of 2021. Photo: ECDAN.

Elizabeth Lule is executive director of the Early Childhood Development Action Network, which joined PATH at the beginning of 2021. Photo: ECDAN.

Before the pandemic, 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries were already at risk of not receiving the protection, nutrition, and stimulation they need for healthy brain development. Now, because of COVID-19, this number is rising.

The Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) was established to help all young children be safe, well nourished, and healthy. Over the past year, the network has been responding to the new, overlapping challenges that young children and their families are facing because of COVID-19.

And now, PATH will support these efforts. PATH was selected to host ECDAN in January 2021, bringing together strong leadership, technical expertise, and a broad network to collaborate toward a better world for children everywhere.

We sat down with ECDAN Executive Director Elizabeth Lule to talk about her work supporting young children, responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and building a better world for young children and their families.

Q1: What is ECDAN and what does it do?

ECDAN is a global network of networks that offers a platform for collaboration, knowledge exchange, and advocacy to nearly 100 institutional partners and 6,000 individual members. Together, we support parents, caregivers, and children from conception through five years of age.

The global ECDAN network includes regional early childhood development (ECD) networks, multilateral agencies, international financing institutions, faith-based organizations, global partnerships, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, universities, think tanks, ECD practitioners, and advocates.

Our partners work across the different domains of ECD—from early learning and caregiving to nutrition and health—and they all do remarkable work alone. But it takes expertise across organizations, communities, and sectors to build the foundation for development that children everywhere deserve. We are stronger when we work together.

“It takes expertise across organizations, communities, and sectors to build the foundation for development that children everywhere deserve. We are stronger when we work together.”
— Elizabeth Lule, Executive Director, Early Childhood Development Action

Q2: How did ECDAN respond to COVID-19?

COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges that young children, parents, and caregivers face, and it has exacerbated inequalities in every country. More children are living in poverty, more children are out of school, millions of children are undernourished and, sadly, violence against children is on the rise.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, our network leapt into action. We began curating and sharing early childhood–focused COVID-19 resources and launched a call for coordinated action. Our academic partners identified likely impacts to children’s health, development, and learning resulting from disrupted health services, school closures, and parents struggling to provide nurturing care while balancing work or coping with job losses. Based on their findings, some partners developed tools and resources to address the parenting and learning challenges that have emerged.

2020 was a busy year for ECDAN. Challenges stemming from COVID-19 persist, but 2021 started on a positive note. PATH became ECDAN’s institutional host in January, giving the network significant support to continue this important work. After a seamless transition and warm welcomes, I’m currently in conversation with leadership to explore how we can best support each other going forward.

Q3: Whose work has inspired you over this past year?

Despite the challenges, it has been amazing to watch our partners come together. We have an opportunity to do better than we did before—our partners are working together to make that happen.

For instance, one group of partners is strengthening the quality and use of data for young children to identify inequalities and better understand who is being left behind. The evidence can then inform policy decisions and improve service delivery to address young children’s needs. We are using UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development Index 2030, a new tool for measuring the proportion of children who are developmentally on track in health, learning, and psychosocial well-being.

“We have an opportunity to do better than we did before—our partners are working together to make that happen.”
— Elizabeth Lule, Executive Director, Early Childhood Development Action

The World Health Organization, in collaboration with other partners, developed a handbook for including a nurturing care approach—which prioritizes good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for learning for all children—into national programs.

The Africa Early Childhood Network’s eight-part blog series, “Building Back Better: Stories of Hope and Resilience,” highlights inspiring stories of progress from governments, development partners, and communities across the continent.

These are just a few of many examples of progress from our network. I am energized by the commitment and passion that this crisis has unleashed. I think we have been reminded that we can all do much more and better if we coordinate, collaborate, and align with each other.

Q4: What are your goals for 2021?

I see this year as an opportunity to fiercely advocate for young children so that ECD remains a top-priority public policy. We must find innovative solutions to address disruptions and inequalities. We must prioritize young children with disabilities or developmental delays and young children living in poverty and conflict-affected settings.

To this end, we are launching a campaign to advocate for sustaining and increasing investments in ECD. This will build upon work that began last year, during which we developed a tool to calculate the cost of inaction. We are launching another new campaign that will advocate for better childcare policies to support children and families.

I am also excited about connecting childcare advocacy with the growing women’s movements. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen massive childcare and family care burdens shift disproportionately onto women, exacerbating already unequal family care responsibilities.

More women have left the workforce or lost their jobs because of childcare responsibilities. We can’t talk about economic opportunities for women without reforming childcare policies. ECDAN is working to connect these movements and amplify our reach.

In all of this, we’ll need to be intentional about learning from COVID-19. We are planning joint learning opportunities to analyze and share findings from research and data that were gathered during the pandemic. We will apply this evidence as we reimagine and collectively build the world we want for children—to not just build back, but to build back better, more sustainably, and more inclusively.

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