ECD centres ensure children grow up to be successful adults
by Premier Alan Winde
When we sat down to discuss and draw up the Western Cape’s Covid recovery plan, Early Childhood Development centres and programmes featured prominently in many of our discussions.
This is because ECDs fit into all of our three recovery priority areas of dignity and well-being, safety and jobs. It is for this reason that I announced in October that ECDs are now, in the eyes of the Western Cape government, an essential service.
Early childhood development centres set up children between birth and 6 years old with the cognitive, developmental and social skills that they will require when they reach school.
In this phase of their lives, ECDs lay the foundations for literacy, numeracy and social interactions through story-telling, singing, drawing and building, and through play. International research has shown that children with a strong developmental focus during this phase go on to be more successful at school and later on in life.
Giving the children of the Western Cape a good ECD foundation will advance dignity and well-being by giving them the tools that will allow them to learn and develop to the best of their ability at school.
This is the start in life every child deserves, no matter their background.
The closure of ECDs during the lockdown could have a lasting learning and behavioural impact on many of our children further down the line, which is why this government has continued to support the sector, providing PPE, materials and training to allow thousands of ECDs to reopen safely.
We also welcome the funding made available by the national government for ECDs impacted by Covid-19 and I encourage those ECDs who have not done so to get their applications in.
The Department of Social Development in the Western Cape was also the only provincial social development department that continued to provide a full subsidy to funded ECD facilities throughout the lockdown period, and was therefore not included in a court case brought by the sector to compel other provincial departments to do so.
We estimate there are more than half a million children aged between 0 and 4 in the Western Cape, of which almost 140 000 are believed to be in a registered ECD programme or facility.
Making allowances for those children who may have a stay-at-home parent, who are left with an adult family member, child minder or day mother, that still leaves a large number of children who may not be in appropriate care.
ECDs also play an important role in our jobs priority. This is they create many work opportunities in communities, especially for women. In the Western Cape, we estimate registered and unregistered ECDs in this sector could employ more than 16 000 people.
At the same time, placing a child in an ECD allows parents, and in most cases, mothers, to take up economic opportunities. This is essential for realising dignity and well-being and addressing the economic exclusion of women in our country.
Every parent should be able to go to work secure in the knowledge that their child is being cared for, no matter what their income is.
Finally, ECDs create a safe and secure environment for thousands of children across the Western Cape. To become a registered ECD with the Department of Social Development, the facility must provide, a safe and clean environment with trained adult supervision.
They should also provide nutritious meals, have an emergency response plan in place for accidents and fires, and processes and plans in place to deal with the medical needs of sick children. Some of the requirements for registration may seem onerous, but where the lives and safety of thousands of children are involved, we must not cut corners.
ECDs are a critical function in our society and should be treated as such.
Last year, I committed to convening a multi-stakeholder forum, where these issues, and public-private partnerships to strengthen this sector, can be discussed. This forum will be convened soon and I will be making further announcements in this regard during my State of the Province next week.
We hope to use this forum to get inputs on the proposed migration of the ECD function from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Education, earmarked by the national government for 2022.
The decision and the processes to move the ECD function from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Education must be undertaken with the best interests of children in mind.
This cannot simply be a budgetary exercise or a move of convenience for either department, and we require their assurance that this important service will not become a volley-ball tossed back and forth between departments, or worse, suspended in limbo between them doing to delays and inefficiencies.
As governments, at the local, national and provincial level, we must act with the best interests of our residents in mind.
When it comes to our youngest residents, who are not yet able to speak for themselves, it is up to us as leaders to work to ensure their safety, their wellbeing and their dignity. Properly supporting ECDs and expanding their availability to residents is one way that we can achieve this.
* Alan Winde is Western Cape Premier.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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