Whole Child International is pleased to announce that Gary Newton has joined our team as Senior Director for Policy. Gary will lead the development of a policy framework to guide our programmatic and geographic expansion.
Whole Child International occupies a niche within the international development community: we focus on the needs and plight of poor and vulnerable children stuck in institutions. While awaiting placement in families, children have the right to the best care possible within the well-known constraints of the institutional setting. Whole Child promotes changes in procedure and practice that improve the quality of caregiving, strengthen attachments, and enrich the emotional environment for children. Whole Child does not promote the institutionalization of children. We help prepare children who live in institutions to live within families.
Whole Child has implemented programs in residential and early childcare settings in Central America – a challenging care environment due to limited resources, widespread displacement, pervasive poverty, and some of the world’s highest rates of violence.
Whole Child is on the cusp of modest growth. Over the next five years, Whole Child will build on thirteen years’ experience working with governments and within the residential care sector to support transitions from institutional to family-based care. We will work on transitions with new partners in Africa and Asia and current partners in Central America. As we expand into family-based care, we will continue our focus on sustainability, increasing government capacity, and leveraging existing alternative care resources to create change.
Gary will consult widely with colleagues in the sector to ensure our policies and programs complement those of our partners and contribute to the global goal of ensuring that as many children as possible are cared for in a family, whether it be their own or an alternative.
Gary served as a Foreign Service Officer with USAID for 25 years, including 16 years in Africa. His positions included USAID Director in Namibia and U.S. Government Special Advisor for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. He teaches a course on vulnerable children at Georgetown University at the School of Foreign Service in the Global Human Development Program, and serves on the board of three organizations that focus on child welfare and protection and public health.
Last week, Founder & CEO Karen Spencer and other U.S.-based staff joined our El Salvador team to visit all corners of El Salvador and assess the progress of the work we have been conducting in limited-resource childcare centers. The El Salvador team has done tremendous work in the care centers, and we’re all grateful for our dedicated partners in the centers and across the Salvadoran government as we move forward with our nationwide program.
One of the most visible changes to children’s lives in the care centers is the addition of toys, play structures, and other improvements to the space to encourage imaginative play and enhance caregiving. Since they were added last year, they’ve been a big part of the hands-on support we have provided caregivers. In turn, caregivers have been able to leverage them to engage with children, and empowered to find creative ways to support the development of each child in their care.
We can’t praise the caregivers, their supervisors, and technical staff members enough for their energy, their care, and their resourcefulness as we all work together to improve the care centers as part of our larger nationwide program.
Whole Child’s El Salvador team graduated its first group of 54 caregivers of Salvadoran orphanages and childcare centers on November 18. The caregivers completed eight months of arduous effort and learning in our first monthly workshops on “Improving Practices for Childcare in Groups,” which is the fourth stage in our process which aims to improve the quality of childcare across the country. Whole Child is joined in this effort by the Salvadoran government’s Institute for Children and Adolescents (ISNA), supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Korean Poverty Reduction Found (KPR). The workshop was a collaboration of experts in integral child development from ISNA, government supervisors, as well as directors and caregivers from nine centers dedicated to childcare in El Salvador.
The workshops covered multiple topics around care and well-being of children, including communication with children, establishing routines in care, establishing a bond with children through everyday activities, the creation of safe and welcoming spaces, observation and child development support.
Each session included reflection and discussions regarding practices and participant experiences. After each session, the Whole Child team provided the caregivers in each center with hands-on support and coaching. We want to thank all 54 caregivers who participated in and learned through these workshops; honoring the commitment, effort, and willpower to make a difference in the life of these children.
On Friday, November 11, we celebrated an important activity in the process of the improvement of quality care in the pilot childcare centers that are the focus of our intervention right now. Our team adapted spaces for children and their caregivers, and put in place furniture, toys, and materials to support the development of Salvadoran boys and girls who are being raised in limited-resource orphanages and other care settings. This effort reinforced what the caregivers learned during the workshops, and the coaching they had received throughout an eight-month period. In total, nine Salvadoran pilot centers benefited from this project.
We installed the toys and materials in the presence of representatives of the Salvadoran government’s Institute for Children and Adolescents (ISNA), community leaders, caregivers, and families, Watching the happiness and enthusiasm of the children with new toys and play spaces was gratifying and joyous for the adults as well.
This effort has been made possible thanks to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Korean Poverty Reduction Fund, and through the support of the Youssef and Kamel Mawardi Fund. It’s a pilot effort we’ll be following in many of the other care centers across El Salvador and beyond, so it’s been carefully documented for replication on larger scales.
This April, Whole Child’s founder Karen Spencer spoke with NBC’s Cynthia McFadden while filming our recent “Dateline: On Assignment” segment. NBC released this extra-special short feature outlining four of Whole Child’s ways to help improve outcomes for children growing up in orphanages.
Please take a look, and read more on our Vision page!
This Saturday, June 25, Whole Child International will launch a new effort in El Salvador in coordination with the Ministry of Education and our partners at the University of Central America in San Salvador. The program will build upon our existing work in children’s institutions and limited-resource care settings to improve the quality of early childhood development, bringing the care practices at the heart of our work to more children across the country.
The Ministry of Education has asked us to coordinate their efforts in training all early-childhood teachers across El Salvador – beginning with 480 specialist early-childhood teachers and community education workers who will then then be charged with training their more than 7,000 colleagues across the country. This exciting new alliance aims to strengthen the professional and social skills of public-sector teachers who currently teach early childhood education and early childhood development. It’s a forward-looking, comprehensive approach to promoting the integral development of children in the country through a human-rights approach as part of a national strategy for building a culture of peace. We are proud to be part of it.
On April 20, Whole Child International closed the baseline of our study of Salvadoran early childhood centers, meaning we have reached the first research-based “diagnosis” of a nationwide early childhood care system anywhere in Latin America!
The investigation started in March 2015 in coordination with Duke University’s Global Health Institute (CHPIR), the University of Central America of El Salvador and the University of Pittsburgh. This process has deployed 24 psychologists in the field daily to evaluate seven orphanages and 154 childcare centers on the national level.
The evaluators have collected demographic data, measured children’s physical well-being and development, monitored the well-being of caregivers, and evaluated the features of the individual centers of care. We used WCI-QCUALS, the tool we developed for measuring limited-resource care settings, which proved to be very sensitive in evaluating and monitoring early childhood care, emphasizing the interaction between caregivers and children.
The baseline has been complemented with qualitative information about the context in 20 selected centers, gathered by four ethnographers, in coordination with the University of Pittsburgh Department of Anthropology.
Once the information has been analyzed, Whole Child will be able to provide the government of El Salvador a thorough and complete diagnosis of the quality of early childhood care to the most vulnerable children in the country, as an important tool for decision-making as we continue to expand our program nationwide to address the conditions found in the study.
From April 3-6, our founder and CEO, Karen Spencer, and Program Director Meghan Lopez presented at the
Both Ends Burning Second Global Symposium for Achieving Child Permanency Through Innovation. Over four days in Los Angeles, 98 people from 25 countries met to discuss big ideas for protecting vulnerable children. Whole Child was honored to be one of only five nongovernmental organizations presenting success stories as well as new ideas for next steps. It was a great opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues from around the world, and get new perspectives on the need for our program and other ideas from across the spectrum of care for orphans and other vulnerable children.
Karen Spencer, Whole Child’s founder and CEO, met on February 17 with the First Lady of El Salvador, Doña Margarita Villalta de Sánchez, and Second Lady Elda Gladis Tobar Ortiz, who is executive director of ISNA, the Salvadoran government’s Institute for Integral Development for Children and Adolescents.
Whole Child International works intensively alongside the Salvadoran government on our project, “Improvement of Quality of Care in Early Childhood.” The project brings together multiple stakeholders across El Salvador, funded by the Korean Poverty Reduction Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and implemented alongside the Technical and Planning Secretariat of the Presidency (STPP), and ISNA, the
University of Central America in San Salvador, among others.
The visit was also a chance to slow down and spend some time with the entire Whole Child team down here in San Salvador, trading stories and aligning our objectives moving into the next phase of work in El Salvador.
Whole Child International invited Dr. Ricardo Santamaria, a
graduate of our first university certificate course on childcare management, to teach the class on basic health concepts in childcare for our second course on best childcare practices at the University of Central America.
As the Metropolitan District Director of the El Salvador Ministry of Health, Dr. Santamaria perfectly represents the key objective of
our training programs — to equip and prepare major stakeholders in developing countries to convey a comprehensive set of best practices in childcare and protection to a much wider population.
The graduates of the second course will now go on to
implement what they learned in childcare centers and orphanages across the nation and will support caregivers in their efforts to provide more stable, nurturing high-quality caregiving relationships for more than 10,000 of the country’s most vulnerable children.
This past week, Whole Child’s Program Director
Meghan López addressed Zero to Three’s 30th-annual National Training Institute, “Reaching a Milestone: Connecting Science, Policy and Practice.”
In her talk, “Quality Care in Limited-Resource Settings: Focus on People, Not Places,” Meghan shared Whole Child’s strategy of dedicating resources with a rigorous emphasis on the caregiver-child relationship, which has proven to be an effective and cost-effective approach to quality care. The presentation gave an overview of how we have made best practices accessible and applicable to all settings and all staff and highlighted that it is not where care is received, but how it is provided. Meghan also led participants through an activity of washing each other’s hands, demonstrating how important interactions are during daily care routines. The Seattle event’s
program brought together experts from child welfare, parent education, and pediatrics to explore the latest strategies for caring for infants and toddlers.
La Mejor FM‘s national radio show “Habla Conmigo” (“Talk with Me”) invited Program Director Meghan López on the air to provide parents and caregivers guidance for helping children develop positive self-esteem.
Meghan explained to listeners that for children to feel secure they need to feel loved for who they are, not for what they can do. She offered positive reorientation as a substitute for such counter-productive means as yelling, hitting, or insults.
She concluded with practical tips for guiding children. Her advice included setting limits without using the word “no,” allowing consequences to happen naturally, and assuring open communication. Her interview is available online (
part 1) (
part 2), and is part of La Mejor FM’s series called “Supporting Positive Attitudes for Children Ages Seven to Twelve.” El Salvador’s
National Council for Children and Adolescents sponsors the radio program to promote healthy caregiving practices.
Parents and childcare providers are often inundated with new techniques to motivate infants to sit, crawl, and walk more quickly. But as part of our
university certificate course in El Salvador, we asked “What’s the rush?”
Last week we devoted a class to freedom of movement — the practice of allowing babies and children to develop at their own pace with the opportunity to move their bodies as they are able to do independently, without being pushed to the next stage of movement or placed in positions they have not learned on their own. Katharina Becker, Founder of
Casa Emmi Pikler in Ecuador, taught the class, and guided participants to reflect about benefits for children, such as strengthening developing muscles naturally and increasing confidence and autonomy.
Many very common practices, such as leaving babies in infant seats, swings, or strollers, actually restrict them and their freedom to explore their bodies and new-found abilities. In group care, such restraints are often used for extended periods of time, significantly limiting opportunities to develop, communicate, and learn — potentially causing delays in development. Instead of a child being in a bouncy seat, imagine them on the floor — free to play, to follow their own interests, and above all to move. Freedom of movement helps children in every developmental domain.
The government officials and program directors in our course at the University of Central America appreciated exploring this practice as a way to help babies and children play, explore and, develop – inspiring them and helping give them the tools to to put this into practice nationwide in all of the childcare centers and orphanages across El Salvador.
Whole Child International is delighted to introduce you to the new staff members who have joined our team in El Salvador this year. Please visit our
Staff page and learn more about their valuable contributions to our team:
- Vilma Gaitan, Operations and Procurement Supervisor
- Dina Cáceres, Research Coordinator
- Pedro Amaya, Logistics Coordinator
- Alejandra Acevedo, Technical Coordinator
- Magdalena Rodas, Accountant
- Marina Del Carmen Sanabria, Research Assistant
One of our veteran staff members, Tamara Bayres Mosher, has taken on a new role as Technical Supervisor. Together with our Program Director, Meghan López, and our Academic Supervisor, Gabriela Serrano, our team is well prepared to carry out an unprecedented national evaluation, provide five levels of training, and take on our ambitious effort to help improve the quality of childcare across El Salvador. We are honored to have each of them on our team.
In El Salvador we are scaling up our national evaluation to reach the second group of government childcare centers and orphanages. We began with an initial trial set of centers known as “
The research model for Phase 2 is vast – in addition to using WCI-QCUALS, which assesses 10 areas key to assuring quality care, we are using a series of other tools, including the Battelle Development Index and the Child Measurement Survey to assess all aspects of child development, detect disabilities, and measure the well-being of the caregivers. Our research now also includes a home-based survey to look at the well-being of the families of children in participating childcare centers; assess for domestic violence, abuse, or other issues; and gain an understanding of beliefs about childcare, while also collecting valuable demographic information. To support our expanded research efforts, our partners at
Duke University, Andrew Weinhold and Morgan Barlow, traveled to San Salvador help supervise data collection and reporting. We will ultimately evaluate a total of 210 government childcare centers and orphanages nationwide in a longitudinal study which will collect data and guide our program for four full years.
El Salvador University Course at UCA: Leading Pediatric Neurologist Illuminates the Importance of the First Five Years
Our university course continues at El Salvador’s University of Central America. This week, the Salvadoran officials, childcare directors, and childcare supervisors attending the course heard from Dr. Antonio Rizzoli, a leading pediatric neurologist from Mexico. With his clear passion for helping governments, communities, and caregivers understand and support healthy brain development, he described in detail how crucial the first five years of a child’s life are — a time in which the brain structure is formed and greatly impacts the rest of the child’s life. In his opinion, the greatest challenge is being able to plan effective ways to support children from the very beginning, especially the first two years when 85% of the brain develops.
Dr. Rizzoli passionately advocated for assuring that technology doesn’t invade our need for human interactions, described the urgency and responsibility we all have in supporting child development, and spoke to the need for children to receive the best care possible as early as possible. He highlighted the consequences of not supporting healthy attachment and meeting children’s emotional needs during the first five years, and outlined major social problems later in life that affect not only the individual, but also the entire society.
His insights were highly motivating, especially for our participants who are responsible for early childhood education and child protection on a national level, and whose decisions affect the lives of thousands of children each year.
Together with the
University of Central America, our team is now launching the second phase of our
training program in El Salvador. The second phase is a university certificate course designed to provide the “how-to” for elevating and monitoring the quality of care provided to thousands of the country’s most vulnerable children. The course, “Best Childcare Practices: Developing the Whole Child in Limited-Resource Settings,” emphasizes practical techniques for implementing quality childcare.
This course is aimed at supporting authorities and field staff from the Salvadoran government’s Institute for Children and Adolescents (ISNA). These are the key officials who design, implement, and oversee national early-childhood programming and supervise 210 childcare centers and orphanages. Together they are responsible for day-to-day care during one of the most vulnerable stages of children’s lives. Their programs will help determine whether this generation of Salvadorans will have the opportunity to develop to its full potential, or not.
Our 65 course participants play a vital role in developing, managing, and implementing childcare center policies that affect thousands of children’s lives each day. From how children acquire language skills to their emotional well-being, the care their centers provide directly impacts every aspect of child development. Look for more posts on how the graduates of the
first-phase university course, as “Agents of Change,” will support the participants in our second training program.
Government Officials Complete El Salvador’s First-Ever University Certificate Course in Childcare Management
Whole Child is especially proud to announce that after five months of learning about best childcare practices and sharing their experiences and perspectives, 72 government officials from 10 different institutions graduated from the first university certificate course in childcare management in El Salvador, which we provided through the University of Central America.
It’s important to recognize the commitment of the El Salvadoran government which facilitated high-level officials from 10 different institutions to spend one day a week for five months offsite, attending this unprecedented university course. We also thank the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Korean Poverty Reduction Fund, and the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency of El Salvador for making the course possible.
Participants received their diplomas in the presence of Korean Ambassador to El Salvador Mr. Kim Byong-seop; Ms. María Deni Sánchez of the IDB; Ms. Elda Tobar, Director of El Salvador’s Institute for Integral Development for Children and Adolescents (ISNA); and other representatives of the government of El Salvador.
“Good coaching creates new ideas for addressing problems and enhances creativity—it inspires the mind and encourages the heart” –
As an organization focused on training and organizational change on multiple levels, one of Whole Child’s most important tools is professional coaching. This unique focus is an empowering means for helping all program recipients, from policy-makers to direct caregivers, learn how to improve childcare and meet vulnerable children’s social and emotional needs — by proactively supporting problem solving at all levels as a first step in effective collaboration.
In El Salvador, as part of our university course for government officials who are key decision-makers in early childhood, Whole Child’s board member and coaching expert John Schuster taught this week’s course, sharing a range of techniques in both coaching and interpersonal communication.
Throughout the course, while also updating knowledge on early childhood development, we strive to help bridge the gap between current ingrained practices that cause harm and delay children’s development with the practices that support children’s physical, cognitive, linguistic and social emotional development. By helping government officials gain coaching skills we are helping them be catalysts of change to improve childcare policies, practices, and programs and we assure that decision-makers have effective tools to empower their staff to make radical changes.
Just as the current training program is empowering government-level decision-makers, the next level of training will serve to empower childcare center and orphanage directors to promote changes among caregivers. This approach is key for Whole Child as we strive to maximize impact and keep costs down ensuring that the greatest impact gets to our beneficiaries. To accomplish this, John shared these inspiring words of Robert F. Kennedy:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. […] It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.”
How can policymakers and early-childhood programs measure childcare effectively given the budget, time, and data constraints that most governments and childcare facilities face? It is a tricky challenge for most countries. This week Whole Child International is joined by our partner and colleague, Dr.
Kate Whetten, in El Salvador to share her insights on how to implement practical and cost-effective evaluation methodologies in our university certificate program on childcare management. As this program’s participants continue to develop skills to be agents of change for quality childcare, they have had the opportunity to explore firsthand how the quality of childcare can be measured and quantified for ongoing improvements and maintaining positive changes. In addition, the national early childhood and child protection officials in attendance took full advantage of her policy experience in less wealthy countries, asking a range of critical questions. One participant reflected with the group saying “What should the result of this course be? To influence the national policies in early childhood, which is a priority for the government. However we have many institutions represented here and seeing results in national policies will be proof of what we have learned and done.”
As always, it is an honor to work with Kate who is part of one of the more groundbreaking studies in our field,
Positive Outcome for Orphans, which provided new insights on optimal and feasible care settings for orphans and abandoned children. As Director of the Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research (
Duke University she also leads research on a number of cutting-edge public-health policy challenges. Her knowledge and experience have deeply informed the groundbreaking national study that we are currently implementing with the government of El Salvador and Duke University on the quality of childcare, and they should be a continual inspiration for our program participants and the evaluating team she is helping supervise.
How are vulnerable children cared for? This is one of the questions Whole Child is exploring in El Salvador as part of our national study on the current quality of childcare. To help us address this question and learn more about the cultural aspects of childcare, we hired a team of four local ethnographers to do a qualitative analysis. Marta, Grazzia, Jacqueline, and Yessenia, all with backgrounds in anthropology, are gathering information to better understand the social and cultural aspects of care in the communities where we are working. By observing the care routines (bathing, feeding, changing, etc.) and interviewing caregivers, they are discovering how both caregivers and children feel about the care being provided. They will also study the relationships between the childcare centers and orphanages and their local communities. The University of Pittsburgh’s
Tomas Matza is leading the team for this activity and is overseeing their fieldwork. Their study will shed light on the values and practices surrounding childcare by asking questions such as “What do children need from adults to support their full development?” In the first phase of their work, from May through July, the team will study eight centers. We will keep you posted on their progress!
The qualitative information they gather will complement quantitative data collected and insights learned from a series of evaluation tools. One of the tools we will use is WCI-QCUALS, which is the tool Whole Child International developed to assess the following 10 domains in low resource settings: Administration; Environment; Group Size; Continuity of Care; Primary Care Giving; Freedom of Movement; Interactions between Caregiver and Children; Attachment to Caregivers; Nutrition, Safety and Hygiene; and Security. The national study will be the first of its kind in Latin America and will help guide future childcare programming and policies in El Salvador for years to come.
One of our most inspiring activities outside of orphanages and childcare centers is working with government officials to improve national policies and programs. Our program includes a university certificate course tailored for the government to explore evidence-based best practices for management from the perspective of their needs and roles in childcare and protection. During the course we learn from the government stakeholders’ experiences and provide them with guidance on how to keep the child’s best interests and their development at the heart of all decisions and policies made. Considering the complexities of legal systems, family dynamics, and ingrained practices, it’s not a simple task. It is, however, vital for children’s mental health and emotional stability.
As part of our nationwide project in El Salvador and outreach efforts in Ecuador, more than 75 government officials from both countries are participating in our current university certificate course, which is in its fourth month. We have seen judges for the first time in their career reflect about how to consider a child’s attachment to his caregiver in the decisions made regarding his care. The key child-development concept of attachment had never before been part of their vocabulary. Likewise, a Ministry of Health representative for the metropolitan region of San Salvador, Dr. Ricardo Santamarí, noted that learning about “neuroscience, attachment, and child-centered administrative practices not only stimulated my mind, but touched my heart.”
We have seen the participants’ criteria for decision-making and program design evolve and change throughout the course. The difference is knowledge — of child development, harm reduction, and a right’s-based approach, among other essential topics that they walk away with for the rest of their careers. Our government partners are key to our program’s success as they make life-changing decisions and manage programs that affect thousands of children’s lives.
Whole Child International was invited to share information on measuring the quality of childcare with U.S. and Russian experts who work with vulnerable children in a webinar funded by the U.S. Embassy to Russia as part of the
Stellit, the Russian NGO that hosted the event, provided a space for exchanging information around best practices in childcare and measuring the well-being of children who are orphaned and/or separated from their parents. It gave us the opportunity to share how our tool, WCI-QCUALS (Whole Child International Quality Childcare Universal Assessment for Limited-Resource settings) measures care settings, and how we use its results to improve quality of care.
Our Program Director Meghan Lopez presented via web conference from El Salvador, explaining our integral approach for assessing quality in limited-resource settings, including orphanages. Officials in Moscow and St. Petersburg listened with simultaneous translation. Dr.
Karen O’Donnell from our partner Duke University’s
Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, presented about measurement with small children. Dr.
Laura Murray from Johns Hopkins’
Bloomberg School of Public Health spoke about the need to use short, clear measurements. They were joined by Russian speakers who shared their experience working with orphans and vulnerable children and appreciated Whole Child’s experience using measurements to improve care. We look forward to a continued collaboration with these Russian and U.S. colleagues, and are pleased to find new ways to leverage the investment in our work by helping other organizations improve care and measure their progress.
Senior Program Specialist, Ani Shabazian, Ph.D., has traveled from her home in Los Angeles, California all the way to El Salvador to teach in our University Course on Childcare Management. For the classes of June 5 and 6, her mission was to share with the more than 70 government officials participating in the course how to ensure childcare centers have the materials and environments that they need to support children’s development. While focusing on preparing spaces and items for the children, her guidance conveys her belief that “positive, caring relationships between a child and the significant adults in his or her life are vital to quality care.”
Under her leadership as Director of the Loyola Marymount University Children’s Center (
LMUCC), the center achieved
accreditation for the second time from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which fewer than 8% of U.S. childcare centers receive. LMUCC is truly a special place for children. Ani’s experience at the center and her research enabled her to help Whole Child International adapt our high-quality practices to orphanages and other limited-resource settings, and to publish our university course textbook and caregiver training materials. Her research and childcare center experience is now bringing innovative ideas to the university course participants in El Salvador, who found her insights on quality childcare pivotal. With the perspective and knowledge Ani brings to this conversation, they now have the tools to think differently about the role of the spaces and materials that adults prepare in childcare centers and the impact they have on children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development.