Providing comprehensive early childhood development (ECD) services to all young children aged 0-6 and their families is difficult under the best of circumstances. In times of crisis—be it a refugee emergency or a pandemic—the challenges are exacerbated. As the number of refugees globally reaches unprecedented levels, it is becoming even more urgent to ensure that displaced young children are supported sufficiently to achieve their developmental potential.
A series of case studies undertaken in late 2019 in Bangladesh, Jordan, and Uganda has shed light on the experience of young refugee children and their families. Commissioned by the Moving Minds Alliance, this qualitative research aimed to inform next steps for the coalition by identifying the common challenges and promising practices that have emerged from these national experiences.
Like many countries hosting refugees, Bangladesh, Jordan, and Uganda face economic and political hardships even in the absence of a humanitarian crisis. As a result, although ambitious ECD policies may be in place and visions of comprehensive ECD may be captured in national strategies, in reality the resources available to achieve these goals are extremely limited. With protracted crises in all three countries, and no sign of abatement in the global instability that causes displacement, it is likely that many young children today (and those born in the coming years) will be raised in families that are displaced and dependent upon the goodwill and strategic planning of host governments and humanitarian agencies.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, the situation of refugee families has become even more precarious. Governments throughout the world have closed work sites, childcare, schools, and public facilities and introduced social distancing policies to minimize physical contact that could spread infection. As a result, families have been confined to their homes and are experiencing limited social contact, potential economic difficulties, and a fear of illness. These stressors can create health and developmental disparities by increasing risk for food insecurity and disrupting family routines, with potentially negative impacts on children’s emotional health, sleep, learning, and development. The effects of social isolation on families with young children during a pandemic have not been well studied, but are likely to compound the obstacles facing refugees in particular.
Using the Nurturing Care Framework and the UNICEF ECD in Emergencies Integrated Programme Guide for conceptual framing, these case studies investigated the extent to which ECD polices and services are effectively organized, coordinated and delivered for refugees by host country governments and the role of international agencies in contributing to that process. Through document review, key informant interviews, site visits to ECD service providers and programs, and focus group discussions with refugee families, a research team from RTI synthesized a picture of the rapidly evolving landscape in each country at the end of 2019.