On the 3rd of June EASPD together with the The Republic Center for Support of persons with Intellectual Disability – PORAKA in North Macedonia, organised the 2nd edition of EASPD Regional Balkan Provider Forum. The focus of this year was Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) and the main aim of this event was to provide a source of inspiration for decision makers and service providers willing to develop or improve ECI services and programmes across the Balkan region.
Vasilka Dimoska, board member of EASPD and Secretary General of Poaraka, opened the event and emphasised how crucial the years of early childhood are in determining the well-being and behaviour of an individual throughout their life. The earlier a child is identified as having a risk of developmental delay or disability, the more likely they are to benefit from strategies targeted towards their needs. Extensive research has shown that high quality early childhood intervention (ECI) services can change a child’s developmental trajectory and improve outcomes for children, families, and communities at large.
Throughout the second part of the event, speakers shared good practices from Albania (Help the Life Association), Greece (Theotokos), Croatia (Malidom), Bulgaria (Karin Dom) and North Macedonia (Open the Windows). Several key elements were highlighted as essential in establishing sustainable and high-quality services ECI systems in the Balkan regions (and beyond), such as:
National governments should develop suitable legal and financial frameworks to support the development of ECI family-focused services. In this regard, cross-sectoral cooperation, between ECI services and the health, education, and child protection sectors, must be essential components of services to ensure each child’s well-being and transition to inclusive preschool and primary schooling
- Clear protocols and standards on developing national ECI models are needed
- Encouraging monitoring systems to avoid the provision of informal services
- National statistics on the number of children with disabilities and their diagnoses are needed
- Providing and ensuring sustainable funding
- Providing information and adequate training of the family of children with disabilities
- Providing specialized services with family-focused support: the focus in early intervention should be on the family, who is intended to be at the center of attention, rather than on the procedure.
- Family involvement in partnership with professionals is essential for sustained progress of children with disabilities
- Home-based programmes are more effective in the young preschool child than center-based programs alone
- Ensure ongoing support to build and sustain capacities of early education support staff
- Increase community’s awareness on cognitive, language, motor or sensory issues that affect children’s development
The speakers also highlighted that the pandemic and social isolation confirmed and strengthened the family as the central focus for child development and child wellbeing. Looking ahead and learning from the pandemic period, providing hybrid ECI services can bring further opportunities for empowering families to support their children in their own environments as well as alleviate potential existing gaps of lack of service provision in certain countries.
To conclude, Irene Bertana, Policy Officer at EASPD provided information about EU initiatives relevant for ECI, such as Child Guarantee, the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and the Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030. All these are important frameworks aimed at enabling and strengthening national policy frameworks to provide quality support for children with disabilities in an inclusive setting.
The active participation and positive feedback of the event made clear that ECI is a high priority for EASPD and its members. EASPD will continue its efforts in the future to raise awareness of service providers towards public authorities about the importance and the benefits of a family based ECI model.
The recording of the event is available on the EASPD YouTube channel here.
For more information about the event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org