Notes from the Field
Today the University of Northampton will award our Founder & CEO Karen Spencer an honorary fellowship at this year’s summer graduation ceremony.
Last week, members of the executive team of Whole Child in Los Angeles visited our El Salvador mission. Karen Spencer, founder and CEO, Pete La Raus, COO, and Nadia Ammar, Director of Individual Giving, worked with the El Salvador team and our partners on program implementation and our plans for moving forward.
The delegation visited two childcare centers and three residential child protection centers which are all part of the child protection system overseen by ISNA, the Salvadoran government’s child protection ministry. ISNA’s Executive Director, Elda Tobar Ortiza, accompanied them during the visit along with the deputy directors for the protection and promotion of children’s rights. The team visited Centro de Desarrollo Integral San Rafael (San Rafael Center for Integrated Development); Centro de Bienestar Infantil Santa Anita (Santa Anita Center for infant well-being); Hogar del Niño San Vicente de Paul (Children’s Home San Vicente), Hogar de la Niña Santa Luisa de Marillac (Santa Luisa de Marillac girl’s home); and Hogar Dr. Fray de Jesús Moraga (Dr. Fray de Jesus Moraga home).
During the visit, the representatives from ISNA and Whole Child discussed at length how to continue to improve early childhood care and development (ECCD) as well as how to take the next steps together, affirming the need to continue to improve quality of care and that the care is relevant and appropriate in a variety of different environments and contexts. The Whole Child team also held multiple internal meetings to ensure that we continue to innovate and stay on the cutting edge of childcare and best practices, both in El Salvador and beyond.
Pictured (l-r): Ma de la Paz Yánez (ISNA), Pete La Raus, Nadia Ammar, Karen Spencer, and Sonia Silva (Whole Child), and Elda Tobar (ISNA).
Earlier this month, Karen had the honor and privilege of being invited to Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty The Queen to attend the Commonwealth Diaspora Reception. This reception recognized individuals who have made a positive contribution to business, community, and culture. Karen was recognized for her commitment and influence in working to improve the quality of childcare for the world’s most vulnerable children.
This 65-year tradition is an important and symbolic event that unifies influential individuals from nearly every geographical region, religion and culture. The Commonwealth organization embraces diversity among its “52 countries and almost 2.5 billion people.”
Throughout the evening, Karen met dignitaries and leaders from around the world, and was honored to share a moment with the Queen.
January 16th marked the 26th anniversary of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, which ended a 12-year civil war in El Salvador. Though the Peace Accords are unique to El Salvador, the scope and implications of the agreement to create lasting peace start with investing in our children’s future.
Nearly 26 years after the signing of the peace accords, El Salvador is one of many countries that still faces profound challenges related to violence and child development. Studies have shown that programs that aim to teach youth how to develop the life skills needed to succeed in the labor market keep children off the streets and, as a result, makes them less susceptible to the influence of gangs. Our intervention in child care facilities strives to combat this ongoing issue by providing vulnerable children with the internal resources needed to become educated, productive members of society.
Whole Child’s support of the Salvadoran government’s limited-resource early education (ECE) centers is just one of our major investments in children’s future, but there is still considerable work to be done. Studies show that high-quality ECE is not only important for children’s healthy development, but it has significant economic and social payoffs. Together, by investing in early childhood education, we can build a more peaceful and prosperous future.
A primary goal of Whole Child’s new five-year strategy is to replicate our relationship-centered care model in new care settings and new countries. To help do this, we have partnered with a UK-based group called Shift Design. Shift is an award-winning not-for-profit social design agency that supports the creation and improvement of products and services that have positive social impact. For the past several months our El Salvador team has been working with a team from Shift to develop tools and a framework to scale-up our approach to care-giving, from impacting policy on a governmental scale to working directly with caregivers.
The support from Shift is one of our initiatives to grow carefully and systematically as an organization. As we expand, Shift will offer its guidance on how we can support our global partners even more effectively. We relish taking this deep dive into the details of our program processes and working with this award-winning charity to continue to improve the quality of care for vulnerable children.
Pictured: Whole Child and Shift staff explore the context of Whole Child’s training materials.
We all know that while toys are nice, the gifts that really matter are the ones that cannot be bought. From the time a child is born to kindergarten, his or her brain develops at a faster rate than any other stage in life, which is why it’s crucial for children to be exposed to cognitively and emotionally nourishing experiences in their earliest years of life.
This holiday season, the team at Whole Child encourages you, whether you’re a parent, caregiver, aunt, uncle or special friend, to spend an uninterrupted afternoon with a child in your life. Activities such as playing at the park together or reading them their favorite book are building blocks to empathy and philanthropy, which are far more meaningful gifts than the latest gizmo.
We hope you share the valuable gift of spending quality time and giving special attention to the children in your life this holiday season!
This week, People magazine featured our Founder and CEO, Karen Spencer, as one of its 25 Women Changing the World in 2017. Karen has been a champion for relationship-based care of vulnerable children since founding Whole Child more than 13 years ago. We’re grateful to People for bringing attention to this important issue to their more than 46 million readers worldwide!
Dr. Hy Huynh, our colleague from Duke University’s Global Health Institute, visited the El Salvador team in the beginning of November to provide support for our National Evaluation of Quality of Childcare (ENCCI) post-evaluation effort. Dr. Huynh reviewed our protocols in the office and got to see firsthand our “logistics machine” through office monitoring and by heading out to the field for two very long days. The days begin before dawn, so that the team can arrive at the evaluation site as parents drop off their children. We take advantage of this moment to get any consent for research that we need, as well as to interview the parents on their own well-being, their family’s make-up and well-being, and their perspective on their children’s well being. After speaking with the parents, we move on to evaluations of the children, quality evaluations of the center, and interviews of the caregivers in the childcare centers to determine their well-being.
Dr. Huynh was able to lend his expertise to different challenges as part of this process as well as help us to document some of our work. Documentation is a special challenge for us as we are extremely careful to respect the children’s rights by protecting their identities and their stories. We very much appreciate his perspective and his efforts across this process.
Last Saturday at its “Where Pikler Meets Neuroscience” conference, Pikler/Lóczy USA, pioneers in relationship-based childcare, honored Whole Child founder Karen Spencer with its USA Founders Award.
This is an especially meaningful award for Karen and all of us, because the childcare philosophies of Emmi Pikler and the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary, played a big part in the original founding of Whole Child in 2004. Those who have seen Karen give her full presentation have seen a video from Pikler that originally inspired her quest to bring relationship-based care to all children — a beautiful moment between a caregiver and a child, taking advantage of an everyday moment to deepen their relationship and meet the child’s developmental needs for attention, trust, and love.
Congratulations to Karen, and thanks to Pikler/Lóczy USA for its partnership, support, and inspiration.
Pictured: Elsa Chahin of Pikler USA (left) presenting the Founders Award to Whole Child’s Karen Spencer. Photo courtesy of Pikler USA.
Whole Child International hosted our inaugural Gala last Thursday night in Los Angeles at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. It was an elegant, fitting tribute to our achievements thus far, and a great chance for our team to get together with donors, friends, and other supporters both old and new. It also raised awareness and much needed funding for our program, and for that we thank all the attendees who bought seats and tables and “raised their paddle” during the auction — as well as so many who gave in honor of the event.
For more information, including photos of our hosts Earl and Countess Spencer, Master of Ceremonies Sir Ken Robinson, and musical guests Anthony Kiedis and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, please visit our dedicated web page about the gala, and don’t forget to like us on Facebook for the latest news.
Pictured: Anthony Kiedis and Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; Founder and CEO Karen Spencer addressing Whole Child International’s Inaugural Gala.
Our research effort in El Salvador has three main focuses:
- What quality of care do children receive?
- How are children developing physically and holistically (cognitively, linguistically, physically, socio-emotionally)?
- How are the caregivers of vulnerable children doing, both in childcare centers and at home?
We gathered all of this information (and more!) as part of our National Evaluation of Quality of Childcare (ENCCI) baseline assessment with Duke University, the University of Central America, University of South Carolina, and the University of Pittsburgh.
We are currently gathering post-evaluation data. After weeks criss-crossing El Salvador, our evaluation teams have just finalized the quality assessments of the childcare centers.
We don’t have the results yet, and have much to do before the end of the year, but this is a big research milestone!
We’d all like to congratulate our Program Director, Meghan López, for winning the prestigious Global Achievement Award from her alma mater, Johns Hopkins. Meghan joined Whole Child International in 2011, and since then has been a driving force behind the development, implementation, and evaluation of our program. She’s led our teams in both Nicaragua and El Salvador, persisting through earthquakes, hurricanes, challenges, and growth. Meghan is also adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins, where she mentors Masters-level nurse practitioner students.
Felicitaciones, Meghan! We’re glad the rest of the world sees you as we do.
Please read more here about Meghan and her fellow awardees.
Now fully in the midst of post-evaluation of care centers, Whole Child El Salvador is a logistics machine! Every day from 5 a.m. when the first teams hit the road, to 6:30 a.m. when teams arrive at the first evaluation site of the day, to the evening between 5:00 to 7:00 pm when the teams roll back into the office, we track our personnel’s movements around the country by Whatsapp chat groups and GPS points. This system allows us to reroute the teams when care centers are closed or for security reasons, and keeps the office up-to-the-minute on progress in the field.
We have scheduling and planning spreadsheets to track where the teams are and will be; we have spreadsheets that track the teams’ progress in the various evaluation tools in the various sites; we have spreadsheets that determine what has been sent by the El Salvador team and received by our colleagues at Duke University, and more! Every week the Whole Child El Salvador evaluation team and the office at Duke Global Health Institute coordinate for the research coordination call. This call is a moment’s pause to make sure everything is on track and troubleshoot anywhere needed. It’s a busy moment in the El Salvador office — but the results will be important to guide our ongoing work in El Salvador and worldwide to improve quality of care for vulnerable children!
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.
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