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Interview with EurlyAid on Early Childhood Intervention

EurlyAid is the European Association on Early Childhood Intervention which is a participative association of persons, interested in issues of early childhood intervention. They gave an interview to EASPD and underlined the importance of early childhood intervention. The needs and challenges in the sector were as well discussed and investigated.

Eurlyaid and EASPD recently organised a conference on Early Childhood Intervention in Moldova. Why is this topic important?
Early development of all children is of extreme importance to all of us as they are our future. Children with special needs, despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008, continue to face obstacles in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights in all parts of the world.  Eurlyaid started in 1988 and is a participative association of persons, interested in issues of early childhood intervention for children with special educational needs or at-risk, as well as a working party made up of representatives of parents’ associations, professionals and researchers, from various countries of the European Union whose main goal is advocacy for children’s rights and full participation in their natural environments.

The right of children with Disabilities to Education: A Rights-Based Approach to Inclusive Education was a position paper from UNICEF that was written in 2012 to address very specific issues that affect the inclusion of children with disabilities in Central Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (CEECIS). Children with disabilities in these regions were presented as a priority group for UNICEF as they were subject to severe discrimination, segregation and exclusion from all social aspects of life.

Over the last 10 years organizations and individuals from former east bloc countries started contacting Eurlyaid: institutional care, lack of information, legislation, the wish to reform EI systems in their countries became an important topic.  In the description of our network it says: In Eurlyaid - EAECI aims at (1) Increasing the quality of life for parents and children with special needs, through early childhood intervention (within the context of inclusion and gender mainstreaming); (2) Stimulating the growth and development of quality early childhood intervention (ECI)on a European level; (3) Increasing sensitivity to the values and ethics of early childhood intervention, as described in the Manifesto, and (4) Increasing knowledge and expertise in the field of early childhood intervention.

These aims are pursued by activities such as (a) Disseminating knowledge, experience and expertise in early childhood intervention to parents, professionals, researchers and practitioners (b) Promoting the exchange of information, experience and expertise, in ways that are easily accessible to all, by creating an European Internet Community, (c) Increasing the development of good practice, (d) Supporting existing ideas of good practice and networks in early childhood intervention and acting as a reference system, (e) Initiating scientific research in the field of early childhood intervention, (f) Initiating discourse about training-programs for professionals, (g) Supporting ECI personnel exchange of experiences and ideas  (h) Initiating and participating in ECI projects, (i) Organizing conferences, seminars and symposia, (j) Enhancing the public profile of early childhood intervention ECI.

For all referred above the conference in Moldava proved to be of crucial importance and offered a platform for the sharing of knowledge and experiences between different EU countries, particularly CEECIS, and it showed that driven individuals and their organizations are making very good use of the available information (nowadays by the internet and through personal contacts) and are able to develop huge progress on creating modern and good quality EI systems. We were very happy to experience this.  

What in your opinion are the most important and/or urgent steps to take regarding ECI?
The past several decades have shown remarkable progress in understanding child development, particularly neurological development. Neurodevelopmental science has contributed for the scientific evidence of EI establishing a strong empirical base that demonstrated the importance of early years for life learning experience.There are several reasons for the provision of early childhood intervention services for young children who have disabilities or developmental delays: ethical, developmental, economic, and empirical. As far as the economic rationale the research is conclusive that investments made in the early years of life, are cost effective as they save the need for costlier expenditure on remediation or other interventions later in the child’s life.

The reasons are a strong foundation for policy and funding provisions but they need specific guidelines concerning what and how services and supports should be provided in order to benefit children and families. The move towards more integrated service delivery has been driven by a growing awareness of how fragmented services for young children and their families are, and how that fragmentation undermines the capacity of the service system to support children and families effectively. Cross-sectoral cooperation between health-, education- and social services must be an essential component of services to ensure the child’s well-being and the cornerstones for successful realization of ECI services. In the light of the economic crisis all over Europe during the last years, there are worries about the risk that especially the target group of ECI will suffer from the consequences of austerity politics. However, the requirement to improve the ECI systems in each of the countries has to be based on fundamental statements, presented in the European Association on Early Childhood Intervention Report about answers to an EURLYAID Questionnaire, in the “Convention on the Rights of the Child” from 1989 as well as in the “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” from 2006 by the United Nations.

Eurlyaid has recently joined EASPD. What are you hoping to achieve? How is this partnership going to help tackle the aforementioned issues?
Considering all I have already said it only seemed natural to combine and cooperate within our 2 (extensive) networks: children become adults. Expectation is that we will support each other’s activities, be more efficient and combine PR (public relations) be time and cost effective. To achieve better services, legislation in all countries and quality services in order to guarantee the rights of citizens with disabilities. It’s a process which demands us to be proactive and patient.