By Dănut Dumitru, Roma Early Childhood Development Fellow
A joint initiative by EPHA, the Public Health Programme and the Early Childhood Development programme of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) aims to bring to the forefront the issue of Early Childhood Development (ECD), as part of their wider focus on Roma health. Good health is one of the key building blocks for children’s development, not only impacting their education and well-being but also their later life chances and it is important that organisations in both areas work in tandem to ensure the best outcomes. A healthy kindergarten can reap big results!
As EPHA member, Eurochild, highlights in its child-centred investment strategy, in a similar way to education and early childhood education and care, inclusiveness and high quality in health care services will result in a more equal society. Rather than the bulk of resources going into disease treatment, investments need to be increased in health promotion and prevention. To improve children’s health more emphasis needs to be put on the promotion of healthy diets and physical exercise, linking closely with the regulation of marketing towards children.
A number of projects focus on early childhood development already exist, such as the Childonomics research project which aimed at developing a tool to determine the long-term social and economic return of investing in children. The tool will include an economic model informed by the costs of different services and approaches to supporting children and families in vulnerable situations.
Another example is the Ready Set Go! project which has supported over a thousand young Romani children and their families in Romania. Romania has already gone through a significant transformation of its child protection system over the last 15 years. In 2000 there were 100,000 children in care, predominantly in large-scale institutions. At the end of 2014, there were 58,178 children officially in state care, of which 8892 were in institutional care. The child protection system is now more diversified, offering a range of family-based services to children unable to live with their parents and support services for vulnerable families. At European level, Roma and pro-Roma civil society are calling for more attention to be paid to early childhood development in Brussels – not only essential to ensure and strengthen the social dimension of the EU but also key for economic growth and jobs. The contribution the unmet potential the Roma community can make to the European workforce is huge, and Roma children should not be left behind in the search to find sustainable solutions to bring Roma to the labour market.
This is why it is also crucial to present the pro Roma health and Early Childhood development issues in an economic context and why EPHA attended the recent Brussels Economic Forum (one of the most important events on the European calendar bringing together 800 representatives from business, education and civil society) to make these arguments to the business community.
The 17th Forum identified the three key challenges facing Europe: tackling inequalities in the context of modest economic growth; the future of the EU economy as it moves from 28 to 27 members; and the effects of migration on the European economy and society. George Soros’ keynote speech highlighted the need for the EU to respond to its current challenges by standing up for its values and engage with its citizens to build momentum for positive change; while Vice-President Dombrovskis of the European Commission stressed the need to pursue policies which aim to achieve sustainable growth and social inclusion at the same time, highlighting recent initiatives such as the Pillar of Social Rights as an emblem of the Commission’s intentions in this area.
Other speakers pointed out that although Europe continues to face challenges as a result of the continuing migration crisis, there are opportunities too – Europe can also benefit economically from the skills and abilities of those willing to embrace our European values.
With the EU economy at a crossroads, there is no better time to highlight the importance of better health as pre-condition of economic growth. Measures to tackle health inequalities such as those experienced by Roma children should also be a cornerstone of these economic discussions, as the EU considers its future direction.