The Nairobi Early Childcare in Slums (NECS) and the Community of Practice (CoP) studies hosted a stakeholder engagement and dissemination workshop on September 21 – 22, 2022, in Nairobi, Kenya. The workshop brought together both state and non-state actors who are currently engaged in work on early child development (ECD). The NECS and CoP studies showed a growing demand for childcare in urban-poor settings due to an increase in the number of women seeking paid work and diminishing kinship support. To meet this demand, several unregulated daycare centers, most home-based, continue to mushroom in these settlements.
Compared to other categories of centers, such as those that are school-based, home-based care centers are run by providers who lack the relevant skills and knowledge and have limited resources to facilitate an enabling environment that promotes proper growth, health, and stimulation of young children. For these reasons, it is difficult for these centers to meet the required regulatory and licensing standards. The difficulty in acquiring licenses is one of the key policy concerns that formed the basis of the discussions during the workshop. Participants agreed that it is important for children to be cared for in environments that are good enough for them to grow and thrive.
In his opening remarks, Kimondo Mburu, the Assistant Director at the National Directorate for Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE), noted the need to have children who are healthy and ready to learn, and therefore the foundation laid in the early child development stage is very important.
“The early years of a child are the most important in their lives. Investing properly – including through high-quality, affordable childcare can transform their development – improving learning at school, earning in employment, and overall happiness and quality of life,” added Dr. Robert Hughes, a Clinical Research Fellow from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The importance of home-based care centers is demonstrated by the constant change in urban living that has limited care work for parents. The parent is charged with the responsibility to provide primary care to children, a responsibility that has a direct impact on women’s economic empowerment. Paid care allows women to balance the responsibility of caring for their families and actively participating in work outside the home. Home-based childcare centers provide a necessary service in informal urban areas with limited kinship support for childcare needs. While childcare centers seem to be a complex service to do away with in urban centers, they must be regulated to enable children to thrive. According to Dr. Patricia Kitsao-Wekulo, a Research Scientist who heads the ECD work at the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), it takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately, the village is getting smaller, especially in the urban centers.
“Kinship ties are breaking down. Increasingly, families are relying on paid childcare services in informal urban settlements,” noted Kitsao-Wekulo during the dissemination workshop.
There are underlying issues that stakeholders are grappling with regarding paid child care. Key among them is the quality of care and regulation of the service. Childcare is a devolved function of the county governments, yet, interestingly, the county government structure has not designated a specific docket where this critical service should be placed. Could it fit in the education docket? Or the pre-primary education sector under the county governments? Perhaps it may be well represented under the health docket. Although there is a Childcare Facilities Act in place, more is needed to break it down into actionable guidelines for implementation. The workshop has opened up the dialogue on this issue, although the discussions are far from over. As the different stakeholders deliberated, we agreed to initiate further engagements to work towards streamlining the regulation and registration of childcare centers in urban informal settlements. Such regulatory procedures must consider providing equitable opportunities for home-based centers to be recognized alongside mainstream childcare centers. Participants noted that the home-based carers must be allowed to continue supporting city dwellers by meeting the growing childcare demands while operating under a legally recognized framework and ensuring the needs of the children are met.
“A mindset shift should be the end goal. We need to give the caregivers evidence-based information that will increase their appreciation for the need to improve the quality of service,” said Rose Njiraini, a primary and community health specialist with UNICEF.
At the center of these discussions is a generation whose future is at stake. They will compete for opportunities with children from privileged backgrounds, so the investment is an urgent necessity. When it comes to matters to do with childcare, the debate on where these services are provided is counterproductive as there are no ‘private or public’ children. All children matter as far as their growth and development are concerned.