The Early Childhood Program promotes the healthy development and well-being of young children through initiatives that emphasize parent and community engagement, professional development, and government accountability. The program’s rights-based approach and social justice framework pays particular attention to the development challenges faced by children who are members of minority groups, children with developmental delays, malnutrition and disabilities; and children living in poverty. The Open Society Foundations implement early childhood programs in select countries in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa.
Launched in 1994, the program seeks to increase the quality, access, and comprehensiveness of early childhood services for all children, particularly for disadvantaged children, through a strategy focusing on five areas:
- improving public policies and systems;
- innovative programs and services;
- building the capacity of professionals and civil society;
- engaging marginalized communities; and
- conducting advocacy and promoting accountability.
Together these areas provide a comprehensive approach to working with national governments, civil society groups, and communities to address early childhood development issues.
Capacity development has been a centerpiece of the Early Childhood Program’s work. The program has helped the government in Liberia with early childhood policy and planning. The program develops the capacity of early childhood professionals by supporting regional, national, and international organizations and networks that implement and advocate for early childhood services and professional training programs.
The program established and provides ongoing support for the most prominent regional network of early childhood NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as targeted support to existing networks in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. More recently, the program has collaborated with a university in Bangladesh to implement the country’s first post-graduate early childhood education degree programs.
In Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States the program pursues initiatives focusing on implementation of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as targeted early childhood interventions to improve long term outcomes for Roma children. In Armenia, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and the United States, the program is evaluating its parenting initiative that aims to improve home learning environments of children without access to preschools so that they can arrive at school better prepared.
The Early Childhood Program’s advocacy activities include working with key stakeholders to put early childhood issues on national, regional, and international policy agendas and monitoring funding and provision of early childhood development services.