Parents are children’s first and most important teachers. The care, support, protection, nurturing caregiving and playful interactions between children and their parents is the most critical piece in the developmental puzzle that
enables children to thrive and become productive citizens in the world.
Being a parent is the most important and rewarding job in the world. Yet, there has never been a tougher time to be a parent. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all families around the world by increasing their care workload exponentially and increasing isolation. With the closure of many schools and daycare centers across the globe and family members getting sick, parents are juggling their jobs while taking on additional roles as homeschool teachers, day care workers, nurses for sick family members and so much more. Juggling all of this at the same time has posed tremendous stress on parents around the world. Stay-at-home measures have limited parents’ usual sources of support from friends, extended family and colleagues. Some parents have kept their jobs in spite of the challenges and stress, while others have not due to the pandemic. The situation has been especially dire for women who have disproportionately carried the burdens of increased childcare and domestic labor, often unable to rejoin the labor workforce. Women have faced extraordinary challenges during the pandemic, especially those that were pregnant. Many pregnant women have been alone during this pandemic and faced difficulties accessing antenatal, delivery and post-delivery care.
For parents in humanitarian situations, the challenges have been even greater. On top of the challenges of being a parent, being one during a global health pandemic and in humanitarian crisis is even more stressful. Rasmiya, a single mother of two from Syria, said “I am facing grave difficulties in raising my children ever since I sought refuge from the war in Syria. My daughter is supposed to be at school now, yet she is playing with dirt all day in the camp instead.” Rasmiya and her family are currently taking refuge at the Al Toliani Refugee Camp in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Her daughter, who is four years old, was going to a preschool in the camp run by the Lebanese government throughUNICEF funds, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic the school closed down. In the refugee camp, Rasmiya received winter clothes from UNHCR, but has not received any other support for herself or her children.
In response to the challenges parents around the world are facing, Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), the Arab Network for Early Childhood (ANECD) and their partners have established platforms that provide resources to increase awareness and action in support of parents.
ECDAN has been collaborating with UNICEF, WHO, Parenting for Lifelong Health and the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children to support parents, caregivers and children around the world since the start of the pandemic. In March 2019, the Coalition took the best evidence-based information and created open-source COVID-19 Parenting resources, translating the tips and guidelines into 114 languages and distributed them to 145 million families globally. In addition, three donor convenings were organized bringing together over 40 foundations, philanthropies and bilateral donors. The coalition developed a collective action framework and inter-agency vision to support parents and caregivers with the following three goals:
- Protect children and adolescents and support families to cope with the multiple stressors resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Enable parents to nurture their children’s development across the life course in the context of reduced child-related services and increased parental responsibilities; and
- Lay the foundation for mainstreaming the wide-spread uptake and implementation of evidence-based parent and caregiver policy and program support approaches in all countries
The Arab Network for Early Childhood (ANECD) and the Arab Resource Collective (ARC), recognizing the dearth of services available in the Arabic speaking world, is today launching, Urjouha – an online platform supporting Arabic speaking parents and caregivers. Urjouha, which means “Swing” in Arabic, accompanies parents and caregivers on their parenthood journey – from pregnancy to when their children are eight years. Urjouha provides practical tips and resources, and a space for peer-to-peer interaction and learning.
While ECDAN, ANECD and its partners are providing resources for parents around the world, there is still much more to be done.
A Call to ACTION
ECDAN and ANECD urge Governments, donor agencies, and private sector employers to support parents.
- Adopt family friendly policies and practices by governments and other employers that support flexible work hours, ability to breastfeed and/or work from home and additional leave to care for children. By introducing family-friendly workplace policies and practices, governments, private companies and other organizations will be in a better position to promote children’s safety and wellbeing and provide systematic support to employees, while at the same time reducing staff turnover.
- Expand families’ access and options to Child Care support whether at the workplace or other private locations. When families have convenient, affordable, and quality childcare, they can work, support their families, and care for their own physical and mental health.
- Invest in early education and learning to take advantage of the explosive brain development that occurs in the first five years of life. Science indicates that the brain is most plastic during these early years when there could be more than 1 million new neural connections every second. Learning through play with other children helps build and strengthen these neural connections and establishes the cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional foundations for lifelong success. Most countries invest in education, starting in Kindergarten or grade 1, which science says is not early enough.
- Prioritize the mental health and wellbeing of parents and caregivers. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that globally between 15–23 percent of children live with a parent who has a mental health condition1. When parents and caregivers are not stressed, they can give their best to their children. UNICEF has recently launched Caring for Caregivers toolkit.
- Invest in Social protection measures including cash transfers especially for the most vulnerable families and especially those in crisis and humanitarian situations. The economic strains of COVID-19 have caused difficulties around the world where families struggle to have enough money to pay for basics, like food and shelter. Cash transfers and other forms of social protection have been proven to provide the safety net families need so they do not slip into poverty or can climb out of it.
- Promote innovative human-digital parenting strategies, including online parenting support groups such as parenting apps, parenting text messages and population-level messaging.
- Support civil society effort to provide knowledge and services for parents. Platforms such as Urjouha and others are in their infancy. Governments and donors can partner to strengthen these platforms and ensure more parents have access to critical supports they need.
Today, on the Global Day of Parents, ECDAN and ANECD celebrate all parents across the globe. They have shown tremendous resilience and have been the bedrock for their children as humanity strives to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporting parents means supporting children’s ability to survive and thrive. When donors, governments, employers, and civil society join hands to support parents and their children, more children will reach their development and productive potential which is the foundation of human capital. Ultimately, these steps will contribute to thriving, prosperous economies and societies.
Join us as we celebrate parents today.