New UNICEF study calls for cross-sectoral early childhood developmental screenings in North Macedonia

New UNICEF study calls for cross-sectoral early childhood developmental screenings in North Macedonia

Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) representatives gathered Monday to discuss the findings of a new study on early childhood intervention services for children aged 0-6 with development delays and disabilities, according to an official press release.

Providing insights into programs and services available in the country, “The Situation Analysis of Early Childhood Interventions in North Macedonia” says the scarcity or unavailability of early childhood developmental screenings and early childhood intervention services at the national level results in a high proportion of children in at-risk situations, developmental delays or disabilities going unrecognized and unserved.

“The first years of life provide a unique opportunity to shape a child’s ability to learn, grow and contribute fully to society, while preventing potential delays in development and disabilities,” UNICEF representative Patrizia DiGiovanni told the gathering.

MK_e86a6.jpg

“Developmental delays can be caused by poor birth outcomes, inadequate stimulation, malnutrition, chronic illness, psychological and family situations, or other environmental factors. This is why cross-sectoral — health, preschool and social welfare — integrated screening and support to families and children is vital to help children fulfill their potential.”

The UNICEF study notes that in cases where children have received developmental screenings, parents were usually the ones seeking out the service and more often the identification of developmental delays or disabilities was late.

Only 44 percent of children start receiving developmental screening before the age of three. The findings call for a system of Universal Developmental Screening, Assessments and Referrals so that children and families receive timely support, the release says.

“Early identification and developmental screening of children largely depend on health professionals including obstetricians, neonatologists, pediatricians, family doctors, psychiatrists, patronage nurses, etc. Therefore, the Ministry of Health provides continuous support to further strengthen all sectors, with primary health care as a priority,” Minister of Health Bekim Sali said at the gathering.

MK_38eeb.jpg

According to the release, early childhood interventions in the country are largely delivered through the health sector. However, recognizing the need for family-centered and child-centered services, the UNICEF study calls for close intersectoral collaboration of the health system, social welfare, pre-school education and child care services through several disciplines pertaining to these sectors, such as social work, psychology, and special education.

“Reforms in social services provide an entry point for all professionals working in the field of disability to give their contribution to the development of childrens’ potential and the capacities and skills of the family. Through investments in social services, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy builds the network of services and ensures adequate coverage,” Minister of Labor and Social Policy Jovana Trenchevska told the attendees.

The UNICEF-supported “The Situation Analysis of Early Childhood Interventions in North Macedonia” was conducted with the financial support of the European Union as part of a two-year regional UNICEF and Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) initiative.

“This initiative aims to strengthen national health, education, early childhood development, and child protection systems to ensure continuity in the provision of core services for vulnerable children and their families in the immediate and the longer-term recovery response to COVID-19 in the countries of Western Balkans and Turkey,” the release adds.