Early Childhood Development Centres: Uniform norms & standards: Department Social Development briefing

Committee: Social Development

Chairperson: Ms Y Botha (ANC)

Date of Meeting: 12 Mar 2013

Summary

The Department of Social Development (DSD) briefed the Committee on the setting of uniform norms and standards for early childhood development (ECD) centres, initiatives, and their funding in South Africa. DSD recognized the importance of the future generation, and stressed that a tripartite approach – involving parents, the community and teachers – would be the most effective model. Policies at a national level should be adhered to also by the provinces, who were empowered, under the Children’s Act, to set up and fund structures. Special emphasis had to be placed on the poor and disadvantaged, and there was also emphasis on empowering parents. It was also noted that the DSD had drawn up a plan that aimed to achieve uniformity and would be monitoring and reviewing strategies every two years. A database of all registered facilities and programmes would be maintained. Other aspects were that ECD services must include outreach and prevention programmes, that staff must be properly qualified, that provincial profiles must inform the development and spread of programmes and funding to the poor must be prioritised. DSD stressed that it was important to identify children as risk early in their lives and said that properly planned and structured programmes that addressed their social, emotional, cognitive and physical skills would go far to preventing problems later in life. ECD was seen as a vital contributor to breaking the cycle of poverty.

The provisions of the Children’s Act in relation to funding of ECD were set out, and those who were included in child care were tabulated, and the distinction was drawn between semi-formal and formal structures. The norms and standards practice guidelines, as contained in the Children’s Act, were summarised and for each item there was a note of what programmes were already offered, and what were needed, and their prime requirements. Amongst the requirements were that National and provincial governments must ensure an equitable spread of ECD programmes, and provinces must keep a record of all registered ECD programmes. These programmes must prioritise children living in poor communities and children with disabilities. The provision and management of early childhood development programmes may be assigned to local municipalities. ECD programmes must be integrated and meet all the needs of children in the age cohort 0-9 years, but children, youth and families from the surrounding communities should also be able to access a variety of programmes and resources at the centre. An ECD programme must be delivered by appropriately trained staff and comply with prescribed child to staff ratios. Those offering ECD services must register as a partial-care facility and the programmes must be registered. ECD centres, in order to qualify for funding, must also be registered as non-profit centres. It was noted that subsidies were offered to address access for children of poor parents, currently at R15 per day. 50% of the subsidy was to be spent on nutrition, 30% to ECD practitioners and 20% on support and learning material and administration costs. DSD was trying to standardise the funding policies and procedures across provinces, establish Service Level Agreements, and fund ECD centres on private properties. The programme elements and estimated costs were provided for centre-based, non-centre based, home-based, community based and outreach and mobile programmes, including toy libraries. Child minding services were also covered.

Members asked if the provinces were paying the set amounts, what process applied to ensure that money was spent appropriately and suggested that ring-fencing might be an option to consider. They asked about the training and efficiency of facilitators, and data was requested from different Members in relation to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal. Members asked on what basis the salary scales for child minders were set, commenting that they were low. They also asked whether centres were available in the rural areas, and stressed that services must be available for children with disabilities.


Minutes

Early Childhood Development Centres: Uniform norms & standards: Department Social Development briefing
Ms Margot Davids, Chief Director: Children, Department of Social Development, briefed the Committee on the Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres. The Department of Social Development (DSD or the Department) placed emphasis on the identification and support of children at risk in South Africa.

To apply the norms and standards for the child subsidisation, the DSD had drawn up a schedule to achieve uniformity at national level. The National and provincial governments must ensure an equitable spread of the ECD programmes. It was hoped to have a national profile and strategy, aligned with the corresponding provincial profiles and strategies. These strategies would be effectively monitored and reviewed every two years. Most importantly, a database of all registered ECD programmes would be accessible to all parties at national and provincial level.

Ms Davids noted that the ECD services must participate in the participation and provision of outreach and prevention programmes. The staff delivering an ECD programme must be in possession of the adequate qualifications and expertise in this field. The provincial profiles must inform the development and spread of the ECD programmes in poor communities and children with disabilities. The funding to poor communities must be prioritised.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) was defined as” a process of emotional, cognitive, sensory, spiritual, moral, physical, social and communication development of children from birth to school-going age”. It described diverse range of programmes that could be community based or home based, and be delivered by a range of stakeholders. It would go far to ensure that children were able to access their development needs.

ECD was seen as a primary programme for the care, protection and development of children. The early years have been recognised as the ideal phase for the passing on values that are important for the building of a peaceful, prosperous and democratic society. These included respect for human rights, appreciation of diversity, anti-bias, tolerance and justice.

It was important to identify and support “children at risk” early in their lives. If there was early and appropriate treatment and care, this could often reverse the effects of deprivation and support the development of innate potential. ECD interventions would allow children to develop to their full potential, reducing the need for remedial services later.

The core concept of the ECD centres was to embrace all crucial aspects relating to the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual balance that would contribute to the well being of children from birth to preschool. The DSD aptly named this support structure as a triangle, which included the parents, communities and teachers.

There was much evidence that ECD contributed to breaking the cycle of poverty resulting from teenage parenting, impoverished single parent families, developmental delays, malnutrition and disabilities in children, school drop-outs, low productivity and criminality. Parent education and other ECD services led to better parenting and child development.

The provisions of the Children’s Act in relation to funding of ECD were set out. Chapter 5 stated that the provincial MEC may provide and fund partial care facilities and services for the province, taking into consideration national and provincial strategies contemplated in section 77.

To apply the norms and standards for the child subsidisation, the DSD had drawn up a schedule to achieve uniformity at national level. The National and provincial governments must ensure an equitable spread of the ECD programmes. It was hoped to have a national profile and strategy, aligned with the corresponding provincial profiles and strategies. These strategies would be effectively monitored and reviewed every two years. Most importantly, a database of all registered ECD programmes would be accessible to all parties at national and provincial level.

The definitions and legislative provisions of the Children’s Act were outlined. Ms Davids set out a table showing the people who could be involved in caring for a child, including extended family, including family, friends and neighbours, and support groups for the parents. She also drew the distinction between various types of semi-formal and formal structures and how the decision and registration process for centres worked.

The norms and standards practice guidelines, as contained in the Children’s Act, were summarised in the form of a table (see attached presentation for details). The requirements were supported, in this table, by a listing of what was done and what was needed to promote each aspect. It was noted that National and provincial governments must ensure an equitable spread of ECD programmes. A record of all registered ECD programmes must be maintained by all provinces. These programmes must prioritise children living in poor communities and children with disabilities. The provision and management of early childhood development programmes may be assigned to local municipalities. ECD programmes must be integrated and meet all the needs of children in that age cohort (0-9). Children, youth and families from the surrounding communities should also be able to access a variety of programmes and resources at the centre. An ECD programme must be delivered by appropriately trained staff. All ECD programmes must comply with prescribed staff to child ratios.

It was noted that the budgeting for the age group birth to five years fell to three departments at the provincial level; the Department of Health (for provision of health services), the Department of Education (for training of personnel, curriculum guidelines, and learning materials), and the Department of Social Development (for monitoring and providing funding - not full cost - to agencies offering ECD programmes).

The two largest sources of income for the ECD centres were the Department of Social Development and parents through fees. However, they were also able to source funding from faith-based organisations, donors, the business sector, and other departments at provincial and municipal levels.

Ms Davids noted that the Children’s Act requirements resulted in two forms of registration for ECD services. The first was registration as a partial care Facility, and the second was registration of the ECD programmes. An ECD center must be registered as a partial care facility in terms of S80 of the Children’s Act and the ECD programmes must be registered in terms of S 95 of the Children’s Act. An ECD centre must also comply with the Non Profit Organization Act when it applied for funding

DSD has a system of poverty-targeted, per capita subsidies intended to address the issue of access for poor children. The subsidy would be paid to non-profit registered ECD centres for qualifying children. The subsidy seemed to be is the only stable source of income for most ECD centres serving poor communities, where fee income from parents was erratic, although it generally improves the service offered, particularly in making it possible to provide a nutritional programme. Payment was intended to cover daily attendance of children and was based on pro- poor policies, providing a sliding scale of payment according to a means test. The subsidy was a provincial competence. It was currently at R15 and all provinces were expected to standardise their payment as from 1 April 2013. The funding was paid for 264 days in the year.

The services provided included the care and protection of children, provision of a safe environment, nutritional meals, stimulation and early learning programmes and referral to social services. 50% of the subsidy was to be spent on nutrition, 30% to ECD practitioners and 20% on support and learning material and administration costs. DSD was trying to standardise the funding policies and procedures across provinces, establish Service Level Agreements, and fund ECD centres on private properties. 

The programme elements and estimated costs were then set out for a number of different programmes, from Centre-Based programmes, to non-centre Based programmes, which were essential where children did not have geographic access to the centres or where their parents could not afford the costs. They were more flexible on the needs of target groups and tended to include multiple elements. Other programmes could facilitate parents’ access to documents and grants, food parcels, referrals to health and social services, and others may include money management, income generation, savings groups, self-help groups or improvement of food security through gardens.

Home-based ECD programmes should ideally be delivered for children from birth to four, either in their own home or through community based services. Home-based services would include home visits and education for the parents or care-givers. Home visitors were trained community members, and they focused on stimulation and early learning programmes, nutritional support and psychological support. Community based programmes were provided at community structures such as churches, clinics, schools or community halls. Again, they concentrated on child stimulation and early learning programmes, nutritional support and psychological and other support to children and caregivers. Outreach ECD programmes equipped parents with skills to stimulate their children, regardless of the level of education and there was help to build toys and equipment out of waste material. Playgroups were also recognised as essential to cognitive and social and emotional development of children. In some groups, parents, children and caregivers all participated to build relationships. Toy libraries were another community service, and these also provided toys for special needs children. Mobile ECD Programmes were offered to children in rural and farming areas who could not otherwise access ECD services, for three or four days a week, and for three to four hours. These may also support playgroups.

Child minding services were also outlined, which cared for a small group of children, usually in a family home. They too would have to meet minimum infrastructure and programme requirements, and the minders must have received basic training in child care and protection, stimulation and nutrition. A range of play activities should be provided.

Ms Davids noted that the DSD was committed to full adherence to the Children’s Act, and aimed to engage with the National Treasury (NT) and other government stakeholders on the dire need of establishing these centers, with a special focus on the poor and rural areas. She asked that the progress in the costing of non-centre based ECD programmes be noted.

Discussion
Mr M Waters (DA) queried whether the legislative mandate as reflected on page 4 of the presentation was being fulfilled, if the provinces were paying the stipulated amount, and if so, what process was followed to ensure that the monies dedicated to these ECDs were spent appropriately.

Ms E More (DA) expressed concern with regard to the training of the officials setting up these ECD centres and the efficiency of the facilitators. Special mention was made of the status of the ECD centres in the Eastern Cape. Ms More requested data on the current situation in this province.

Ms More noted that the salary scales for the child minders were very low and questioned the DSD on what basis it had drawn up the salary scales.

Mr R Bhoola (MF) called for clarification on the provincial allocations. He was particularly interested in getting more detail on the KwaZulu Natal region. He thought that there should be an alignment of the provincial budgets, and that the norms and standards should set around these budgets.

Mr Bhoola also raised the question of whether ECD centres in far-flung rural areas were available or were planned.

Mr Bhoola also noted that children with physical disabilities also needed to be provided for in the bigger scheme.

Mr Bhoola stated that he believed that ring fencing strategy should be done as part of the policy to ensure that what was made available was indeed used for the effective operation of the ECD Centers.

Mr Bhoola cited the diagnostic report of the National Development Agency (NDA) and expressed concern about the skills required for such engagements, and hoped that a holistic approach would be taken to identifying, setting up and effective operations for the ECD Centers.

Ms J Maluleka (ANC) raised questions regarding the differences in allocation periods and amounts between the provinces for ECD Centers. In some provinces, provision was made for R15 per day per child for a period of 264 days, while in other provinces the period was only 120 days. The breakdown of the subsidisation was categorized as 50% for nutrition, 30% for practitioners and the balance of 20% for miscellaneous services or goods required. In this regard too, synergy between the provinces was requested. She also asked about the criteria for funding.

Mr Cocedo Pakade, Chief Executive Officer, NDA, provided a comprehensive insight into the challenges facing the DSD and the implementation of the ECD centres nationally. He noted that the key factors affecting the ECD centres were fiscal policies and budgets, and the enforceability and compliance issue. Funding was a double edged sword due to the fact that the ECD was not a statutory function, and yet on the other hand there needed to be a minimum set of standards. In terms of the National Development Plan (NDP), the state would be obliged to enforce children attending pre-school for two years in their fourth and fifth years.
Mr Pakade noted that the DSD was taking the programme of the ECDs very seriously and was in agreement with the Department of Public Service and Administration that the children’s services, as an early child development structure, would be a separate entity. The ideal scenario would be a hybrid approach, thus ensuring a core infrastructure at national level, with provinces complying with the same perspective.

Ms Davids addressed the concentration of the ECD centres and stated that these centres were not always readily available in the rural areas. In fact many would be centres that attempted more to stimulate the children in their early years. ECD centres would be offering more focused programmes that encouraged a more enhanced environment for early childhood development. Ms Davids agreed that the concentration of these centres was mainly in the city and there was not much progress in establishing them in rural areas. However, for the future, movement and intended roll out plan was geared towards the rural areas.

In terms of the criteria for funding, the two most important elements were that the centres were registered as a NPO, and then further registered with the DSD.

The question of training would not only pertain to the teachers, facilitators and child minders – but also to the parents. Parents would be taught the fundamental necessities for effective child rearing as this would go a long way to empower them. Their participation and co-operation was emphasised as vital.

Ms Davids said that clarification would be given at a later stage on the actual training programmes geared towards the staff and officials who will set up and serve this much needed vulnerable sector of our society

The meeting was then adjourned.