Notes from the Field
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.
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