The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines is receiving high marks for formally launching the Early Childhood Health Outreach (ECHO) programme, designed to provide disadvantaged families with increased and improved health care services at the community level.
At the official ceremony of the “Institutionalisation of ECHO”, Consultant Director of the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC), Susan Branker, said, “the convergence of health and early childhood development has been deemed by the international research community to be one of the most cost-effective and effective means of reaching young children and their caregivers.”
She told the gathering that the ECHO programme has broken new ground in the region and will serve as a model for replication and adaptation, as already, a similar approach is being planned for piloting in St Lucia later this year.
The FDCC is the coordinating body for the ECHO programme as well as the Roving Caregivers Programme (RCP), both aimed at providing quality early childhood care and health services to disadvantaged children in the region. The RCP project already exists in Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, St Lucia, Belize and Jamaica. The ECHO programme, which has developed out of the RCP experience, was piloted in St Vincent, and will subsequently be introduced in the other territories.
In her address, Miss Branker, explained that the most recent Poverty Report cites that children in St Vincent are the most affected by poverty. She says, “What this data reveals is that there are 2,984 children in the zero to four population living in poverty, and that the poverty rate among this age group is in fact 36% - higher than the national average of 32%”.
The FDCC official maintained that inadequate attention to young children, 0 to 3 years, results in persons who fail to reach academic, socio-emotional and potential, with a high probability of becoming involved in crime and other forms of socially deviant behaviours. In response, Miss Branker stressed, “Appropriate early stimulation is needed so that (children) can develop to their full potential."
In applauding the Ministry of Health for its efforts to institutionalise ECHO, Miss Branker reiterated FDCC’s commitment to working closely with its partners to ensure full documentation of the ECHO models and processes, to ensure that others can learn from the successes and challenges of the project.The FDCC is the first indigenous Foundation dedicated to the funding and provision of early childhood development services in the region.
UNICEF Representative for the Eastern Caribbean Area Ms. Khin-Sandi Lwin congratulated St Vincent and the Grenadines for being the first country in the Eastern Caribbean sub-region to implement what she described as a critical service to vulnerable families with boys and girls in the first three years of life. She said, “The community health aides already provide a very important service with their home visits giving guidance and support to the families on good health and nutrition child care practices and providing important information on parenting.
Through the ECHO programme, piloted with UNICEF support, the aides have been trained to extend their traditional role to include early stimulation activities in their home visits and child health clinics. By fully incorporating this service in the maternal and child health services across the country, community health aides will now be able to train and coach caregivers right in their homes or at health clinics to increase family knowledge, attitudes and practices in early stimulation, positive ways to discipline, early care and parent-child interaction and protection,” the UNICEF official said.