Before COVID-19, Argentina faced challenges regarding the lack of an early childhood care system. Access to quality care services was insufficient, with significant differences depending on where a child was born, the labour conditions of their parents, and their income level. The pandemic deepened these pre-existing social and economic inequalities and highlighted the care crisis.
In a country where approximately 37% of the population and around 52% of children live under the poverty line, many families face difficulty accessing the most basic food and supplies. In this context, the pandemic affected the well-being and exercise of children and adolescents' rights in multiple dimensions. It increased the burden of domestic and care work on women and significantly affected their employment rates and income levels, particularly in the case of female single-headed households with children.
Early childhood care systems are critical to ensure a social and economic recovery from the disruptive effects of the pandemic without leaving children and women behind. At the same time, it can contribute to providing quality care to children, improving women's access to the labour market and the working conditions of care service workers, primarily women.
Placing care policies at the centre of recovery plans is crucial to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, ensuring the exercise of children's rights, improving the quality of life of society as a whole, and providing the State with more effective tools to bridge gender gaps.
The Joint Programme "Early Childhood and Integrated Care System" implemented in Argentina from early March 2020 to February 2022 acknowledged this and responded to multiple dimensions focused on implementing a comprehensive care system. The SDG Fund has been the platform that made this possible. The flexibility of the Joint SDG Fund allowed the programme to adapt to the country's changing needs amidst the pandemic and reoriented resources and redesigned activities while maintaining the same original goal in mind—to contribute to the design and implementation of comprehensive early childhood care policies with a gender perspective.
To do so, the Joint Programme focused on different results:
- It provided technical assistance to develop Comprehensive Early Childhood Strategies in four provinces and 18 municipalities. The systematisation of this model and the generation of methodological tools for its replica have placed the JP as a vector to scale public policies aimed to improve the living conditions of children up to six years old and women, especially those highly vulnerable groups.
- It generated timely evidence to improve early childhood public policy decision-making and funding. This included an integrated system of ECD-related indicators to monitor policies and the development of the Federal Care Map to count with georeferenced information on the current supply of care services for early childhood (public and private). Also, the JP generated evidence on the specific impacts of the pandemic on early childhood and on women (predominantly female single-headed households) to inform public-policy responses.
- It strengthened innovative responses for vulnerable populations, such as a systemised intercultural ECD policy aimed at indigenous children living in rural areas.
- Awareness generation and capacity-building activities contributed to improving care services workers' competencies and working conditions to raise awareness of the importance of care and the need for a fairer and more equitable organisation of care.
UNICEF technically led the JP in articulation with ECLAC, UNDP and ILO and coordinated with the Resident Coordinator's Office (RCO). It was found that inter-agency programs enhance the complementarity between the entities involved and optimise the quality of the results while avoiding the superposition of efforts.
Joint interventions among the UN System are essential to provide a coordinated approach to government counterparts, and most of all, they are fundamental for effectively achieving the UN sustainable priorities.
Educational and care centres are essential places for the comprehensive development of thousands of kids.
Only 33% of children up to 4 years old attend educational and care centres. Argentina faces significant challenges in expanding the coverage and improving the quality of these services. It is essential to prioritise access for the most vulnerable families, ensure the professionalisation and decent work of care workers, and value the heterogeneity of services (which respond to further development, parenting, and care needs in a large and diverse country) while ensuring shared quality standards.
The Joint Programme significantly contributed to achieving these purposes through capacity building. Almost 3,000 early childhood education and care services workers across four provinces were trained. One of the leading training activities informed care workers about the socio-emotional impact of COVID-19 and confinement measures on children, giving them tools and training on how to contain and comfort them with a "nurturing care" approach.
Multicolores Day Care Center is among the many involved in the Joint Programme's activities. It is located in a very vulnerable area of the municipality of Godoy Cruz, in the province of Mendoza. The institution receives 250 boys and girls divided into two shifts. Approximately 100 attend the kindergarten, 120 attend the educational support centre, and 30 attend the dining room.
Many of the children who attend the daycare are living through difficult situations: their families cannot access basic services and goods, their homes are precarious, their parents are often out of the labour market, and in many cases go through situations of domestic violence and addictions that directly affect the growth, development, and environment in which the children live.
Within this framework, the work of the daycare centre is essential for the comprehensive development of these 250 boys and girls, who find in this space a place of belonging, company, affection, care, and education that allows them to have a better present and the possibility of a better future.
Similar cases across the country have shown the program's effectiveness in reinforcing children's welfare by strengthening the competencies of those who care for them.
The Amparo Kindergarten in Entre Ríos province is another outstanding example.