A broad group of civic, governmental and multilateral organizations gathered in São Paulo in September 2015 by the Inter-American Dialogue, the María Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation and Todos pela Educação, agreed on the general pillars of a regional public policy agenda on child development. This agenda has been taking concrete form and in September 2016, a similar group worked three days in Lima to build a set of agreements around the issues related to the measurement of child development. This year, another group of experts in the provision of early childhood services in the region met in Washington DC to discuss and reach a series of consensus on the Quality of Child Development Services in Latin America.
As a result, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Inter-American Development Bank, co-organizers of the last meeting, published a document that includes the agreements reached.
The group started from a set of shared premises. Improving child development in the region — in the cognitive, language, motor and socio-emotional areas — requires good quality services. However, the region needs to change its way of understanding quality. The most important elements of the quality of child development services are those related to the quality of interactions between children and their dependents. And — in order to achieve more equitable results — the children who can benefit most from quality services are those who come from the most vulnerable households.
Based on these premises, the group managed to reach agreements in five areas:
1. The state has a role of regulating the quality of public and private child development services. It must also provide or finance the provision of services that are focused on the most disadvantaged children.
2. Quality assurance systems must define standards, strategies to monitor them, and incentive schemes that promote compliance. It is not enough to set standards for service providers. Quality services also require thinking about standards for development and learning that children must acquire and about the skills and knowledge that adults in charge of them must-have.
3. The curricula and protocols of attention fulfil an essential role because they reflect an agreement of the different actors around certain goals and allow to align training, monitoring and evaluation efforts. In addition, curricula and protocols become even more necessary in contexts in which staff are not professional as they provide support in the preparation of appropriate activities for children.
4. Quality child development after school pick up programs cannot be possible without an emphasis on various issues related to human resources:
- Any effort to increase coverage or improve the quality of services requires staff planning to carry it out.
- Administrative aspects related to the management of human resources can become a bottleneck for quality if the management function is not strengthened and an effective management structure is achieved.
- The previous and continuous training schemes require further strengthening in the region. Mentoring plays an essential role in this process.
5. Quality child development services rest in a functioning institution. Due to the nature of these services, aspects of territorial articulation and inter-sectoral coordination acquire particular importance. The sustainability of efforts to expand and improve the quality of child development services demands long-term political and budgetary commitments. It also requires the continuous involvement of civil society and academia, in areas as varied as innovation, the generation of evidence and even the provision of services and training of staff.