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UNICEF rallies partners for early years care and support

Published:Thursday | July 25, 2019 | 12:21 AM
Maureen Samms-Vaughan
Maureen Samms-Vaughan

UNICEF Jamaica recently concluded a successful three-day, inter-agency Early Years Child Care and Support Workshop which served as a platform to celebrate the success of initiatives that support young children diagnosed with disabilities.

This technical workshop brought together more than 50 government partners, civil-society counterparts and decision-makers involved in the design and implementation of Early Years Care & Support services for families with infants and young children affected by congenital malformations. Partners reflected on, and shared their experiences and approaches, methods, and tools for building the body of knowledge in Early Years Care & Support.

in-depth review

Keynote speaker Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan steered the discussion based on the findings of her soon-to-be-released UNICEF-funded comprehensive mapping of services for children with congenital Zika syndrome, other congenital anomalies and developmental disabilities. She shared an in-depth review of the public health referral pathways and educational services (including early childhood education) for young children and their families. Importantly, during the data-driven and fact-filled presentation, The University of the West Indies professor of child health noted that, of the “3,000 doctors in the health system, there currently exists no mechanism for specialist registration”, and on the education front, “there are currently no government-owned and operated special-ed schools at the early childhood level – only some 20 mixed ability schools that all required an assessment for entry”.

Vicente Teran, UNICEF Jamaica’s deputy representative, reminded participants that Jamaica was the first country to sign the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities more than 10 years ago and has landmark systems such as the Child Health Development Passport in place. He also shared that over the last two years, UNICEF Jamaica, with funding from USAID, has been working to arrive at a better understanding of the early years care and support landscape on the island.

Members of the UNICEF Regional Office shared lessons and best practices related to Early Years Care and Support in other countries in the region, and the Ministry of Health and Wellness provided a well-rounded view of what Early Years Care and Support looks like in schools, homes, and healthcare and wellness spaces.

Dr Rebecca Tortello, UNICEF’s education specialist, noted that the meeting was well received as the collective experience of the participants helped to identify strengths and challenges and chart a way forward for continued advocacy and action.

“We know that every child deserves a fair start. Every child deserves a chance not just to survive but to thrive,” Tortello said.