Notes from the Field
Last week, Whole Child’s program and evaluation teams and our partners at Duke University rolled up our sleeves for a five-day working session on WCI-QCUALS, our tool for measuring quality of care in limited-resource childcare centers. The team spent the week pulling apart the elements of the tool and analyzing each of them for user-friendliness. User-friendless is especially important for something designed to be used by highly burdened staff and supervisors of early childcare and development and residential childcare centers in some of the world’s most resource-deprived places.
Since our founding nearly 15 years ago, Whole Child has believed passionately that one of the key obstacles to the improvement of quality of childcare is how to measure it. We are concerned that as interest in improving quality of care continues to grow, the focus in investment will remain on buildings and materials — when science tells us the most important factor for children’s emotional well-being is the quality of the relationships in their lives. From the beginning, this factor proved difficult to measure, but we were faced with another crucial challenge as well: the predominance of tools designed for care centers in developed nations to measure centers in under-developed countries.
(Factors that might “fail” a center in the United States, such as a dirt floor or unreliable electricity, are far less important in a neighborhood where these things are commonplace. It is important to focus on things like the caregiver’s ability to connect with a child while changing her diaper — which is of primary importance no matter where you are.)
In 2012, we started working with the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR) at Duke University’s Global Health Institute, which shared our passion for measurement and the importance of relationship in children’s long-term well-being. We worked together to fine-tune the tool and turn it into a smartphone/tablet app. Together, in 2014, we piloted use of the tool on a nationwide scale, measuring 213 centers in the “National Evaluation of Quality of Childcare in El Salvador” as part of our project partially funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, “Improving the Quality of Care in Early Childhood.”
Last week’s arrival in San Salvador marked the beginning of the second phase of our development of the tool, which we look forward to using as a key measurement tool in our USAID project. It is designed for use in a variety of settings, including early child care and development (ECCD) centers, residential care centers, centers for previously trafficked children, and many more. When completed, there will be multiple versions, including one that centers can use for self-assessment, and one for governments to monitor centers they operate and supervise. Crucially, we have always intended to make the tool free to use, as the cost of measurement tools is very often a prohibitive factor in situations where they are most important.
We were deeply grateful to have our faithful friends at Duke working alongside our own team — led by CHPIR Director Kate Whetten, Research Associate Hy Huynh, and Research Analyst Andrew Weinhold. The team brings invaluable experience assessing quality of care through their numerous NIH-funded studies.
Pictured: (Top) Whole Child and Duke staff working together on QCUALS. (Bottom) Longtime collaborators Kate Whetten and Karen Spencer, respectively Director, Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research, Duke University; Whole Child Founder & CEO.
Last month, the Whole Child International El Salvador program staff met with around 200 members of the country’s 14 Departmental Shared Care Networks, or RAC for its acronym in Spanish, to begin the process of collaboration on our USAID Project’s various elements. The RAC is coordinated by the Salvadoran Institute for the Comprehensive Care for Children and Adolescents (ISNA), one of our key government partners.
Our team led a series of presentations and workshops illustrating how the Project will work, sharing all three components of the project and how the members of the RAC are integrated into these actions. Our presentation met with enthusiasm among these partners, many of whom worked with us from the beginning to develop the program.
The delegations identified significant areas where our project reinforces other national-level work of another key partner, the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONNA), the government institution guarantor of child protection through the development and oversight of child policy and regulations, in particular on matters of positive parenting with pregnant adolescents and adolescent mothers.
This meeting was an important initial dialogue that will ensure we have the access we need across the system of care, and engage all the stakeholders we need to get the job done.
Outreach Visits to Private Residential Care Centers
The project presentation meetings laid the groundwork for a series of visits to private residential care centers now informed about the project and its scope. Certain components of our project in particular meet ongoing needs the residential centers have identified, such as monitoring of children reunited into families and other forms of support, and these shared goals have encouraged these private centers to become active partners in the project.
These information sharing visits are a crucial opportunity for our team to get to know more closely the challenges of the centers and benefit from the experience and perspectives of the personnel on the front lines.
We’re moving forward on multiple fronts in our project in El Salvador. One goal we have been able to realize is the seconding of two staff members from ISNA, the Salvadoran government’s Institute for the Comprehensive Development of Children and Adolescents. These two members, Lorena Santos and Hazzel Romero, will spend two years in our office in San Salvador, where our staff of 19 can learn from them and vice-versa.
Lorena and Hazzel are technical specialists in child protection and limited-resource childcare, respectively. They will be accompanying the technical teams of early childhood care centers and protection centers in the processes of training and strengthening their skills and abilities (mentoring) related to guaranteeing quality care practices in different environments. They are also playing an important role in mapping out the child protection system in the research phase of the project.
Our project is specifically about creating capacity in the Salvadoran government to implement best practices and policies in childcare, across its system of care from residential centers to childcare centers to foster and other alternative care. So, there’s nothing more effective than working as closely as possible with the permanent staff who will be guiding and implementing these practices and policies long after Whole Child has completed its work and gone to other countries of need.
Hazzel & Lorena meet with CEO & Founder Karen Spencer, January 2019
This is the fifth of a five-post blog series. Part 1 introduced our USAID-funded “Protection and Quality of Care for Children Project” and Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 described its three principal components. This post will serve to put it all into a wider context.
While the Protection and Quality of Care for Children Project was not timed or designed to respond directly to the ongoing migration crisis that became BREAKING NEWS in mid-2018 with the separations of children from their parents, the project’s focus on child protection, quality caregiving, and early childhood development does help ameliorate root causes of the crisis — violence and poverty — and it helps respond to consequences of the crisis — child separation and family dislocation.
For example, as described in the previous posts, the project will use an evidence-based approach to prevent children from becoming victims of violence — or perpetrators of it — by strengthening:
- the child protection and social service workforce;
- case management, so more children are placed in safer care settings;
- the system for monitoring children’s well-being;
- the care system’s capacity to respond to reported cases of violence, abuse, and neglect; and
- the capacity of caregivers and parents to practice positive parenting and relationship-centered care that builds children’s socio-emotional health and resilience.
The project will generate policy and technical recommendations based on concrete experiences of children and youth within El Salvador’s child protection system and incorporating proven best practices in other countries and institutional settings.
This system and capacity strengthening will also help the government continue and improve its efforts to reunify, and support migrant children and youth returning to El Salvador due to deportation or the dangers and difficulties of migration.
The project will also help prevent family breakdown by expanding access to quality early childhood education and daycare that enables vulnerable families, including women-headed households, to earn income and break the cycle of poverty that drives irregular migration.
For the next five years, we’ll be talking about this program in these pages. We hope you’ll keep reading as we conduct this program, assess its impact, and hopefully demonstrate the potential of these ideas for making a real, lasting, and meaningful impact on the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable children — benefits that reach across Salvadoran society and indeed help ensure a more peaceful and secure American continent for us all.
This is the fourth of a five-post blog series introducing our USAID-funded “Protection and Quality of Care for Children Project” and its three principal components, and putting it all into a wider context. (Jump back to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.)
The Project’s third component focuses on supporting the ongoing transition from residential to family care for vulnerable children in El Salvador.
The number of children in residential care decreased from 6,000 in 2009 to an estimated 1,500 in 2017. In 2017, for instance, 250 institutionalized children were reintegrated with families. Much good work has been done to date on the care transition, but challenges remain. To help the government address these challenges and achieve a lasting re-orientation of the residential care sector toward family and community-based care, our Project will:
- promote and develop the desire for change within the residential care sector.
- support the development of the legal and policy reform necessary to permit residential care institutions to take on social casework such as family reunification, reintegration, and preservation; and coordinate with judges, local child rights boards and social service staff in the transition process.
- demonstrate how existing residential care professionals can be re-trained and re-deployed to do case management, supervision, training in parenting, and family support;
- pilot foster and kinship care approaches modeled on prior work done by NGOs and others;
- strengthen the system to monitor the well-being and safety of children placed in family-based care.
These activities will be informed by the assessment of the government’s de-institutionalization program that we will conduct under the first component of the project.
That’s the “Protection and Quality of Care for Children Project” in a nutshell! Please stay tuned for Part 5 of this series, which will explain the connection between the project and the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Jump to Part 4 — “The Connection between Our Project and the Border Crisis.”)
This is the third of a five-post blog series introducing our USAID-funded “Protection and Quality of Care for Children Project” exploring its three principal components, and putting it all into a wider context. (Jump back to Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)
The second component of the project focuses on building the capacity of ISNA, the Salvadoran government’s ministry of child services, and its training school to plan, deliver, and sustain a comprehensive national training and mentoring program which will help improve the quality of care and developmental outcomes among El Salvador’s most vulnerable children.
Training and mentoring focus on the range of people involved in planning and delivering quality care: the caregivers themselves, their mentor-supervisors, technical leaders, academics, policymakers, members of the judiciary involved in child welfare and protection, and, of course, parents.
Training content focuses on key topics related to best policy and practice in child development, childcare, and child protection including the neuroscience of early child development and the buffering effect of nurturing care relationships that create resilience to the toxic stress of an environment of extreme violence. The mentoring component involves one-on-one follow-up on the results of our assessments of residential care centers and support for early childhood caregivers in the early childhood care and development (ECCD) centers. It is a key step towards improvement of care after the initial assessments are carried out in Part 1.
Five best practices for quality childcare in limited-resource settings are at the core of all training and mentoring:
- Responsive relationship-centered caregiving.
- Continuous primary care.
- Small groups.
- Freedom of movement; and
- Individuality and identity.
Prior work by Whole Child and partners in El Salvador demonstrated that a key challenge to improving care quality is to effectively improve communication between supervisors and caregivers. Therefore, training of supervisors and directors will include a substantial focus on best practice in mentoring — developing capacity to support behavior change in respectful and productive ways which helps ensure best care practices are maintained.
The training program will not only increase the use of best caregiving practices, but it will strengthen the critical mass of practitioners and policymakers equipped to champion national care reform more broadly by, for example, strengthening the social service workforce, carefully moving children from institutional care to family-based care, and strengthening systems to monitor their care in families — which will be the subject of our next blog post.
The next post will explore the third component of this project, “Family-Based Care Practices” — a series of interventions that will help residential care centers expand their social services and train care center staff to provide desperately needed case management in a country that has far too few social workers to respond to its citizens’ child protection needs. (Jump to Part 4 — “Family-Based Care Practices.”)
This is the second of a five-post blog series introducing our USAID-funded “Protection and Quality of Care for Children Project” exploring its three principal components, and putting it all into a wider context. (Jump back to Part 1 here.)
This post focuses on the first of the project’s three main components: strengthening systems to support children without adequate family care.
This component focuses on supporting Salvadoran government’s efforts to take stock of its efforts to date to care for, protect, and promote the healthy development of the country’s most vulnerable children. The results of this assessment will be used to refine care and protection policies and practices.
Fundamental to this process is getting a bird’s-eye view of the social-service workforce in El Salvador and assessing the overall quality of social work. The main activity under this component involves mapping social workers’ roles and responsibility for case management and supervision which will entail, among other things:
- assessing child protection and case management skills;
- assessing curricula for university social-work degrees;
- collecting data on reports of abuse and neglect, cases investigated, and their disposition; and,
- determining caseloads and turnover.
These activities will result in the identification of gaps in financial, human, technical, and procedural capacity and make recommendations to address such gaps, and it will guide the project’s third component which includes support for innovative approaches to utilize the current childcare and social-service workforce to expand family-based care.
Another important activity under this component involves assessing the implementation to date of El Salvador’s deinstitutionalization policy. The assessment will be done under the direction of, and in collaboration with, ISNA, the Salvadoran government’s ministry for children. The assessment will address, among other things, the quality of case records, the status and well-being of deinstitutionalized children, and, the quality of family-based care received by formerly institutionalized children.
Finally, under this component there will be an assessment of the quality of care in El Salvador’s remaining public and NGO-run residential care centers, of which there are approximately 30. The assessment will identify how each center can improve quality of care and children’s developmental outcomes through operational changes, training, and mentoring (the project’s second component), and will gauge their readiness or capacity to provide social-work-related services (the project’s third component).
Please keep reading this series of posts to learn more about the other components of this project and how they will help children in El Salvador. (Jump to Part 3 — “Training and Mentoring.”)
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.
Working for sustainability is hard. Many times we would love to go into a childcare center and fix everything all at once, but it’s essential to go slowly with our partners and make sure they know the why and the how of the practices and principles that we recommend.
Some days, this process seems like it will take a very long time. And then there are the days it all clicks. Today, in a visit to one of the childcare centers in the heart of San Salvador, on the edge of one of the largest markets and in an area with strong gang presence, it clicked! This childcare center unfortunately does not have any green area, and for security reasons the children must stay indoors nearly all day. Working with caregivers to make the childcare experience full of joy, discovery, and fun in these conditions has been a challenge, but the caregivers have worked tirelessly with our technical team, learning new strategies for positive reorientation and ways to communicate and interact with the kids.
After reaching a number of quality benchmarks, through the generosity of the Mawardi Foundation, we were able to introduce new toys and materials into this center. While the space for the older kids was instantly transformed, the space for the babies was harder to implement. The caregivers have been cautious about creating an environment where children under one year old could be on the floor, moving and playing, while the caregivers were elsewhere in the room. But today when we walked in for technical assistance we found a new kind of quiet filled with the sounds of children discovering, playing, and interacting. The caregivers were moving around doing necessary tasks, pausing constantly to marvel at their charges who could now set new challenges for themselves and achieve those successes.
Pictures from that visit are up on our office bulletin board in El Salvador as our inspiration this week!
From the beginning, Whole Child International has dedicated significant time, resources, and funding to doing research and evaluation of the work that we do. This has been essential to demonstrate results and impact, but it also guides our program development. For instance, if we find that some results are not as effective or as well sustained as we had hoped, through evaluation we can carefully analyze and pull apart the pieces of our program to determine where we need to grow further.
As part of our research in El Salvador, Dr. Tomas Matza, an anthropologist and ethnographer from the University of Pittsburgh, has been providing invaluable insight into the caregiver experience prior to, throughout, and after our work improving the quality of care in their centers. We work intensively with the caregivers, providing them training followed by on-site hands-on coaching and mentoring in applying what they have learned, so it’s invaluable to carefully understand what helps the caregivers — and therefore the lives of the children they care for.
Tomas first visited in June 2015, and he is back in-country working with the team of local ethnographers as part of the post-intervention assessment. He is also meeting with government officials to learn more about their experience in our university certificate program, and how this has changed their perspective and practice. We are looking forward to the new insights gained from this process.
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 has been thinking about how to evaluate the quality of care that children receive since the founding of the organization. This careful analysis led to a five-year process of literature review, development, testing, and expert review to develop our childcare setting quality measurement tool, WCI-QCUALS — first as a tool on paper and then developed as a smartphone application with Duke University. This month our program director, Meghan Lopez, traveled for 10 days to China to work with our colleagues at One Sky for Children, who share a similar perspective on the importance of quality care and relationship centered care.
She provided a training session focused on an overview of quality in childcare through the lens of existing evidence, specifically looking at limited-resource settings. Meghan shared WCI-QCUALS and worked with One Sky staff to pilot its use.
One of our goals in this partnership is to learn as partners at One Sky use WCI-QCUALS to evaluate their orphanages, childcare programs, and foster care services, in China. From the thoughtful questions during training and the on-site practice assessments, it was exciting to share experiences with our talented colleagues there and to support the important work they do for vulnerable children.
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.
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