Notes from the Field
This month the El Salvador team hosted our partners from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, whose five-day residency was a chance for the USC team, Whole Child staff, and our Salvadoran partners working on our USAID Protection & Quality of Care for Children Project to collaborate intensively on the first component of the Project, which is to develop an assessment of El Salvador’s child protection system for and with our government partners.
To date, the USC team has carried out 25 interviews of staff in the judicial systems, legislative assembly, civil society, international organizations, the CONNA and ISNA departments of the Salvadoran government, and UNICEF. They also visited early childhood and residential care centers, and carried out four focus groups made up of 26 child protection system decision-makers, geographical regional coordinators, and technical personnel. This work builds upon the key research that Whole Child staff has done on the evolution of El Salvador’s child protection system and how it works. All of this will support Whole Child’s capacity to make recommendations to the government to help improve the child protection system.
The Whole Child International El Salvador Facebook page had an interesting story yesterday about a trip earlier this month, in which…
“…staff from INSA, the Salvadorian government’s department of child and family services, and Whole Child team members met at sunrise for a two-hour drive from San Salvador to the Port of El Triunfo, in Usulután. Our destination was the daycare center of El Jobal located on the island of Espíritu Santo, to speak with educators and community leaders about our USAID project, Protection and Quality of Care for Children.
“We arrived at port at low tide, creating an immediate challenge simply in boarding the boat. But thanks to a community member with a water taxi, we were able to begin a 20-minute ride among incredible landscapes and green mangroves. When we arrived on the Espíritu Santo shore we found the El Jobal center was located in the middle of the island — so our adventure continued on a motorcycle adapted for four people!
“When we finally arrived at the children’s center, we met with the wonderful childcare workers who work day after day for the island’s young children. The conversation regarding the project and next steps was productive and truly gratifying, as community leaders and educators expressed their pleasure in being part of this technical dream which is based on the protection and quality of care for children.
“We are especially grateful for the people in this community and for all the educators at the center for welcoming staff from ISNA and Whole Child, but even more for their commitment to Salvadoran children!”
Yesterday we were honored to deepen our partnership with the government of El Salvador, signing a memorandum of cooperation with the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONNA). This memo commits both organizations to strengthen child protection and to collaborate in reaching El Salvador’s goals in its National Strategy for the Comprehensive Development of Early Childhood.
We’re grateful to have the chance to formalize a collaboration and a professional friendship that has inspired and motivated us at Whole Child for a long time.
Pictured: Zaira Navas, CONNA Executive Director & Sonia Silva, Whole Child El Salvador Country Director
Whole Child’s new Mother’s Day tradition — #LikeAMotherToMe — is in its second year! It’s a chance to celebrate the mother-like relationships that reflect the connection we help build between caregivers and vulnerable children. Whether or not people have a biological mother in their lives, but they often have mother-like figures who love them, support them, and champion them.
Thanks to all those who shared, and the mother figures who nurtured, supported, and inspired them. And hats off to Nat Hovee who is so gifted at helping tell Whole Child’s story.
Today our founder Karen Spencer sent the following message to all of Whole Child’s partners, supporters, and other friends to recognize a pretty wonderful milestone:
To all our friends and supporters,
I founded Whole Child International on this day 15 years ago with the goal of bringing love and connection to vulnerable children everywhere. As I look back on all these years, I think of the children whose lives Whole Child has impacted and also about the many people who have made it all possible.
Speaking on behalf of our whole team, we are forever in the debt of so many people. I am thinking especially of our champions within development banks and those within government ministries, of our fellow foreign aid partners, and of so many champions in foundations who have worked to bring funds and support to us over the years. And last but not least, we are truly indebted to those many individuals who have chosen to provide us with the funds and other support we’ve needed, often digging deep into their own pockets so that Whole Child could carry on, grow, and aspire to reach more children in more countries around the world.
To all of you who have made our work possible over these last 15 years, thank you.
What better way to spend our 15th anniversary than with our growing team!
Again, thank you for your support, and for celebrating this milestone with us!
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.
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.
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.
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