Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief


Managing a shift in Early Childhood Development focus

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Test population-based models of provision | 22 March, 2013 - 08:43


The challenge

The past few years have seen a growing understanding that the earliest phase of life, from conception onwards, is the most critical in children’s development.  Evidence shows unequivocally that babies and young children who are malnourished, ill, affected by HIV, who suffer abuse or violence, or who have insufficient social and cognitive stimulation are disadvantaged throughout the course of their lives. Such children lag in cognitive, emotional and social development, educational achievement and, in adulthood, work and income.  This cycle of early childhood deprivation perpetuates poverty and inequality in our society. The situation is particularly ominous in our province. 

As a non-profit historically working mainly in school education in the Eastern Cape, the challenge for ITEC has recently been whether - and how - to shift our organisational focus towards younger, more vulnerable children in the light of our evolving understanding of this cycle of deprivation.  Although ITEC has worked in ECD for some years, our focus has traditionally been on school and centre-based interventions.  In addition, ECD at ITEC has always been one amongst a wide range of educational and training programmes. 

A profound organisational shift towards working with younger, more vulnerable children came with our new director, and a subsequent review of our strategic direction.  After much thought and debate, we made a conscious decision that our strategy should be weighted most heavily towards early childhood development and supported by a secondary focus on literacy promotion and library establishment in schools.  High school and youth interventions, although they remain important, are prioritised less.  Our new focus requires an organisational mind-shift, reflected in our new slogan ‘Creating Child-Friendly Communities’. 

Implications for ITEC

To bring our slogan to life, we trialled our new Masibakhuseleni, (‘let us protect them’) programme in both rural and urban settings.  The elements of the programme are accredited practitioner training, improved nutrition through food gardens, outreach to vulnerable children through a home visiting system and playgroups, support for local child protection structures, and influencing local authorities to prioritise the needs of young children. 

A key change for ITEC’s ECD programming was the inclusion of children who do not attend centres.  We have learned many lessons from this, and have many more to learn. 

One of our central challenges was to build capacity within our organisation and to enable a paradigm shift in ‘child-friendly’ approaches and behaviour within our staff compliment.  Besides a small team of highly experienced ECD facilitators, the majority of our staff were not experienced in ECD, and we work in an environment in which skills and experience are at a premium, and where non-profits, including ITEC, face hard economic times.   

We have several strategies to manage the organisation’s transition to child-friendliness:  

  • any excess funds earned through our self-generated income projects go directly into our ‘child-friendly’ work; 
  • we are phasing out some much-loved but ‘outlier’ projects, releasing staff and resources to focus on our core work;
  • we have recruited extra staff with experience and expertise in early childhood development;
  • we continue to advocate for our child-friendly philosophy throughout the organisation, including to staff who are not directly involved in ECD implementation 
  • we have reviewed and adapted the organisation’s code of conduct to include a ‘child-friendly’ ethos
  • we promote a ‘reading’ culture in the organisation and purposefully disseminate key research documents and informative media articles that deepen our understanding of ECD

One of our more successful strategies has been to collaborate with other organisations to improve our understanding and practice.  At grassroots level, for example, we have integrated child-friendly activities into our local Community Work Project.  We regularly exchange ideas and resources with generous and experienced sister organisations, and we engage in dialogue, information sharing, and advocacy for children through our ECD forum, other networks, education and business forums.   

A far more explicit and strategic advocacy approach has emerged from this transition with the organisation deliberately focusing its efforts on speaking out from an informed position on ECD imperatives within key provincial structures e.g. provincial ECD Forum, provincial NGO coalition, provincial integrated ECD planning led by Department of Social Development and the provincial planning commission led by Provincial Treasury.  

Implications for the sector 

National policy and practice, in keeping with new imperatives revealed by research, is shifting from purely ECD Centre-based approaches to include more holistic, integrated services for all children, especially the most disadvantaged.  For organisations like ITEC, who have traditionally worked only in the more formal arena of ECD, the transition is not always straightforward.  

We have learned that the following are very important.  We need to:

  • Learn from our community.  Their priorities are not necessarily ours.  We need to observe and listen carefully, and make sure our programme is flexible enough to adapt to local circumstances, without losing focus on the wellbeing of children.
  • Learn from other organisations.  Many NGOs have a great deal of experience, and most are extraordinarily generous with their time and knowledge.
  • Learn from research.  Much work has been done internationally and locally, and is increasingly easily available from credible internet sites.  
  • Plan, manage, monitor and evaluate our programme with care, and share what we have learned from others as generously as they have shared with us.  
  • Advocate for an increased focus on the need for early childhood interventions at grassroots level, within our own organisation, and in influential forums. 
  • Promote collaboration at both a planning and implementation level to ensure that the limited resources available reach the maximum number of children.

The way forward

We still have a long way to go to achieve our goal of helping communities to become more child-friendly.  

In the next period we will be refining our Masibakhuseleni model, based on what we have learned in both an urban and deep rural setting.  We will be incorporating what we have learned from others, as well as from documented best practice models, and we will continue to infuse what we have learned into our organisational practice.   Advocating for ECD imperatives, which is grounded and informed by practice and research, is a critical determinant in shifting the current development paradigms which see young children trapped in cycles of dependency and poverty. 


8 Park Avenue, North End, East London

 (043) 743 8333

In Short

In this learning brief ITEC describes how they made a strategic shift from working mainly in school education towards working with younger, more vulnerable children.  They describe their strategies to manage their transition to child-friendliness as well as the lessons that they learned in the process. 

 Search for lessons learned:

Leave blank for all. Otherwise, the first selected term will be the default instead of "Any".
Leave blank for all. Otherwise, the first selected term will be the default instead of "Any".