‘Investment in early childhood development needed’

Cape Town – Caught in a cycle of poverty, many crèches in impoverished areas have found themselves falling through the cracks of a well-intentioned Western Cape Department of Social Development policy.

With an emphasis on setting basic minimum standards, the department has put resources into a registration process over the past few years but, it seems, inequality persists.

According to Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for social development and early childhood development (ECD), “the department has exceeded its targets for the number of initiatives to help ECD centres become compliant so that they can register with the Western Cape Social Development Department”.

The department has also provided training to 165 ECD practitioners on the national norms and standards for these facilities.

But, say fieldworkers, it is a conundrum that further marginalises under-resourced facilities.

“It is important that there are norms and standards,” says Leanne Keet, who heads NGO Masikhule, “but achieving optimal learning environments for children in impoverished areas and informal settlements remains an ideal out of their reach due to financial, infrastructural and environmental issues.

“Many principals do not have the financial means to upgrade the facilities.”

Without the upgrade, they cannot register and cannot get access to government funding, she says.

The crèche principals say they are not able to charge more than R100 to R200 a month in fees. Abongile Maneli, who stays in Barcelona informal settlement and has two small children, says: “For most of us who are unemployed, even R100 a month for fees is money we can’t easily find.”

Keet says there also do not seem to be “sufficient departmental and municipal staff to ensure that clearance certificates can be issued timeously, with registration taking between three to five years”.

Professor Eric Atmore, founding director of the Centre for Early Childhood Development, said:

“One solution is massive government investment in ECD infrastructure. Government supports multi-national companies with subsidies and tax concessions, bails out SAA and other state-owned entities to the tune of more than R4 billion, but does not support infrastructure development for ECD centres.”

When choosing an ECD centre for your own child, or evaluating one for a different purpose, the following are useful questions:

Is the site fenced?

Is it clear of health and safety hazards outside?

Is the structure safe?

Is the building ventilated?

Is the site safe inside?

Does it have a fire extinguisher?

Does it have an emergency contact list?

Is the site well maintained and clean?

Is there enough space for children to play outside?

Is there a separate kitchen or cooking area?

Is there running water or access to clean water?

Are there sufficient toilet facilities?

Is there a special nappy changing area for sites that have infants and toddlers?

Is there a first aid box?

Is there a sick bay?

How many meals are provided per day?

Are there snacks?

Is the menu displayed?

Is the food properly stored?

Are the meals and snacks nutritious?

What is the main energy source for cooking?

Do you know the qualifications of the staff members and have you observed them interacting with the children?



Your child’s growing independence

Zuzu and ChildIf a baby did not have physical care and protection from an adult she would die. If left alone for long periods of the day (even if fed and changed) children become inert, undemanding, and passive. Without love and physical contact babies do not thrive. Although three, seven and 12 year olds still need us to care for them, the level of care is different from that we give to babies: we provide food, but do not put it in their mouths; clothes but we don’t dress them; keep them safe, but don’t watch their every move; love them and show affection, but do not smother them with kisses whenever we feel like doing so.

Granting independence is hard. Few of us want to raise an adult who brings his washing home at 40 and is unable to cook a simple meal. Nor, if we are sensible, do we want to raise an adult who remains emotionally dependent upon us. Children should grow, flourish and become independent under our protection. A plant that is always in the shade of another twists and turns to catch the light, as children do when parents fail to let go.

Let go gradually

Sooner or later we have to let go, but the process needs to be gradual. If it happens too soon and too quickly young children find independence frightening and they are likely to become withdrawn or to cling on desperately.

Teach her to voice her own opinions

  • Let her know you hold opinions: answer the TV when it’s spouting rubbish; let her listen to adult conversation.
  • Encourage your child to talk. Find a time each day when you can sit down together and discuss your day. Ask her for an opinion and wait for her answer.
  • Answer her when she asks why; explain things to her in simple terms.
  • If possible sit down together for a family meal. Always listen if she wants to join in your conversation. Never rubbish her opinions: ‘That’s a very good thought but…’ is the best way to disagree.

Preparing to go out alone

  • A one year old can spend a little time playing alone in a room, providing all dangers are removed. (Read more about toddler-proofing your home.)
  • By two she can draw at the table while you cook, or play at your feet while you phone a friend. The secret is to engage with her every minute or two, a word, a smile or a blown kiss is all it takes.
  • By three, your child should be walking short distances with you to the post-box or local shop. Walking is good for health and essential for learning road safety. If she sees you look before you cross the road, it will become second to her, too.

Tasks a three-year-old can do

  • Put away the toys. Make a game of it — put on a CD and see if everything can be picked up before the music stops.
  • Help sort the washing. At three she can sort her clothes from the rest of the washing, and the whites from the colours.
  • Set the table. By three she should be able to set places for the family, but will still need help with the cutlery.
  • Help with housework. Three year olds can dust, wash the table and mop the floor if you squeeze the mop out for them.

Learning to feed herself

  • As soon as she can pick up tiny objects with her finger and opposing thumb (around 6-9 months) let her feed herself with tiny sandwiches, little bits of banana, cooked carrot, grated apple etc.
  • Give her a spoon to hold when feeding her. Getting a spoonful of food from dish to mouth is a messy business and takes time to master. By three she should be able to feed herself with a fork, but will still need her food cutting up for her.
  • Let your baby hold her cup or bottle even though you control it – gradually pass the control over to her.
  • Children who practice fine finger skills master these tasks sooner. Give her a fat crayon and a piece of card to scribble on. Look for toys which encourage placing, such as sorting boxes and tray puzzles.

Helping your child to dress herself

  • Zips, buttons, straps and hooks are difficult for small children — choose clothing with elastic waistbands, velcro, or that slip on with zips and buttons partly closed.
  • Lay clothing out from left to right in the order it is put on. Not essential, but it practices the direction eyes must move when reading European languages.
  • Lay out clothing so that the child lifts it the right way round – trousers front up (so he can sit down and put them on), jumpers and dresses front down.
  • Choose knickers with contrasting waist and leg bands — it helps her get the crotch in the right place. If you can find socks without heels buy a dozen pairs. It is very, very hard for a small child to get her heel into a sock heel.
  • Show your child how to burrow into jumpers and T-shirts arms first then swing them over their heads. Avoid tight necks.
  • Help her to put her shoes on, but let her fasten them herself whenever possible. Children sit with their knees turned out and naturally put shoes on with the fastenings on the inside where they can see them — that’s why they are always on the wrong feet. Central fastenings avoid this problem.