Announcing JEiE’s Special Issue on Early Childhood Development in Emergencies

Research and Evidence
Levels of Learning - Early Childhood Development

The Journal on Education in Emergencies (JEiE) is pleased to announce the publication of JEiE Volume 7, Number 1 -- Special Issue on Early Childhood Development in Emergencies!

JEiE_Vol7_N1 CoverThis publication brings visibility to early childhood development in emergencies and highlights some of the lessons being learned through efforts to address the needs of young children and families living in humanitarian situations.

When young children experience an emergency due to conflict or a natural disaster, it can change their entire early life experiences and alter their life trajectories. An increasing number of children today are born into crises caused by violent conflicts and environmental changes. There are currently more than 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide: 25.9 million are refugees, 41.3 million are internally displaced, and 3.5 million are asylum seekers (UNHCR 2018). Approximately 35 million of these uprooted individuals are children ages 0-18. In 2018 alone, 29 million babies were born in crisis settings (UNICEF 2019).

JEiE Volume 7, Number 1 includes two research articles, five field notes, three commentaries, and two book reviews. The collection of articles provides an overall approach to the promotion of ECD that reflects three core principles. First is the importance of taking a “life course” approach, which starts by recognizing the needs of pregnant women and of families with very young children up to the age they enter school. The second is the importance of working across various development domains—physical, cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional—to address the comprehensive needs of young children and families. And, finally, the third addresses the essential need to provide parents with economic and social support so they can be a solid anchor for their children. All three principles are especially critical in times of crises. Despite the recognition of these key ingredients, programs that provide ECD in emergencies are only able to focus on a fraction of these needs, and often in a piecemeal way. Nevertheless, the contributors to this special issue provide hope that a pathway toward providing greater support for young children and their families in humanitarian contexts is emerging, and that growing experience and increasing evidence are creating a foundation on which programs that provide ECD in emergencies can build.

We are grateful to our lead editors, Sweta Shah and Joan Lombardi, for contributing their time and expertise to this special issue. 

The full JEiE Volume 7, Number 1, previous issues of JEiE, and all articles can be downloaded for free from the INEE website:

The full text of each article is available in English; the abstract and title of each article has been translated into Arabic, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. 


Editorial Note: Journal on Education in Emergencies: Volume 7, Number 1
Sweta Shah and Joan Lombardi

In this Editorial Note, lead editors Sweta Shah and Joan Lombardi introduce the key themes, trends, and novel contributions to evidence on ECD in emergencies offered in JEiE Volume 7, Number 1.

Effects of Two Early Childhood Interventions on the Developmental Outcomes of Children in Post-Earthquake Nepal
Jonathan Seiden, Valeria Kunz, Sara Dang, Matrika Sharma, and Sagar Gyawali

Natural disasters pose immense challenges to young children by exposing them to a high degree of adversity during a critical period. Interventions designed to build resilience in the aftermath of natural disasters may help buffer the negative consequences of these adverse experiences. In this article, we report the results of our quasi-experimental evaluations of two interventions designed  by Save the Children to improve children’s developmental outcomes and parental engagement. These interventions provided resources across eco-developmental levels to young survivors of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk district. The first was a caregiver-focused intervention aimed at improving early stimulation, responsive caregiving, and positive parenting skills for children ages 0-3; the other was an ECD center and facilitator-focused intervention aimed at improving the quality of learning environments, family engagement, and psychosocial supports for children 3-6 years old.

We found that the interventions had a mixed impact. The age 0-3 components had no detectable effect on developmental outcomes. The age 3-6 components had a positive impact on children’s early learning and development, particularly their preacademic skills. Neither intervention improved parental engagement. We highlight the challenges of implementing family-focused interventions in emergency contexts and the importance of the delivery agents in ECD programs. These evaluations demonstrate that bolstering the quality of early learning environments and the skills of ECD facilitators can have a meaningful impact on child-level outcomes, even in postdisaster and emergency settings.

Early Childhood Development in the Aftermath of the 2016 Wildfires in Alberta, Canada 
Julie L. Drolet, Caroline McDonald-Harker, Nasreen Lalani, Sarah McGreer, Matthew R. G. Brown, and Peter H. Silverstone

The 2016 wildfires in Alberta, Canada, created numerous challenges for families with children under five years of age, due to the limited postdisaster access to early childhood development (ECD) programs, resources, and supports. In the immediate aftermath of the wildfires, families struggled to balance recovery activities with childcare responsibilities, which adversely affected their overall recovery. In this article, we discuss three main challenges experienced by families with young children after the wildfires: inadequate access to childcare services, a lack of availability and funding for ECD programs and resources, and limited long-term recovery support for families. Because of their early developmental stage young children are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of a disaster and dependent on their adult caregivers, it is essential to understand the unique challenges families face after a disaster. Children’s prolonged exposure to the stress of a disaster environment is compounded when parents have limited access to crucial programs, resources, and supports during the most crucial periods of rebuilding and recovery. The findings we report in this article provide insights into the critical role disaster and emergency preparedness and planning play in ECD service delivery and infrastructure, and into the need for recovery efforts to “build back better.” We advise all levels of government to consider ECD and the provision of child care to be essential services during natural disasters, crises, and pandemics. We further advise them to make the financial investment needed to ensure sustainable recovery operations, including infrastructure, provision of ECD services, and hiring of educators who can deliver high-quality, affordable early learning and child care in postdisaster environments.

Field Note: Home Visiting in the Middle East: Reflections on the Implementation of Reach Up and Learn
Katelin Swing Wilton, Aimée Vachon, Katie Maeve Murphy, Ayat Al Aqra, Abdullah Ensour, Iman Ibrahim, Anas Tahhan, Kayla Hoyer, and Christine Powell

In this field note, we make a case for adapting Reach Up and Learn, an evidence-based home-visiting intervention, to the needs of refugees, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable populations in the conflict-affected settings of Jordan, Lebanon, and northeastern Syria. We outline the implementation of the intervention in all three countries and share our observations, including successes and challenges, from the first two years (2016 and 2017) of this multiyear project. We also provide insights into the country-by-country evolution of the project. We compare and contrast the adaptation approaches in each country and highlight innovations based specifically on in-country feedback. We also touch on the measurement and costing approaches for the intervention, noting the ways the project is contributing to the limited body of evidence in this area. We offer specific recommendations for additional research to generate evidence on early childhood development in humanitarian programming, and we conclude with an overview of the next stage of the Reach Up and Learn project, which is part of a wider initiative to improve the developmental outcomes of children in the region who are affected by crisis and conflict.

Field Note: Building Resilience and Mitigating the Impact of Toxic Stress in Young Children: A Model for Transforming Parenting and Male Caregiving in El Salvador
Fabiola A. Lara

El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world, with one of the highest homicide rates among children and adolescents (UNODC 2019). Children’s experiences have a profound impact on their development, and exposure to violence in their early years can lead to social, behavioral, learning, and emotional impairments. Caregivers play a critical role in shielding children from damaging experiences and in promoting their positive development (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000). This field note discusses program initiatives led by Save the Children that helped to mitigate the impact of violence on young children in three departments (states) in El Salvador. We developed what we call the Toxic Stress Mitigation Model that consists of three approaches: building resilience, promoting positive parenting, and providing transformative male caregiving in children’s early years. Employing an integrated process comprising multiple sectors, including education, child protection, and health and nutrition, from September 2017 to September 2019 we implemented the three approaches in existing and newly formed preschool- and community-based delivery platforms for children ages 1-6 and their families. In this field note, I explore how the platforms engaged the children’s primary and secondary caregivers, such as community health workers, volunteer group facilitators, and teachers, and examine the implications of these platforms for the field, and for early childhood and development policy more broadly. I specifically examine how these platforms ensure that programming and research go beyond child development and wellbeing in order to adequately address the wellbeing and other needs of both primary and secondary caregivers.

Field Note: Implementing a Humanitarian Needs Assessment Framework for Early Childhood Development: Informing Intervention Design for Displaced Rohingya Communities in Bangladesh
Kim Foulds, Naureen Khan, Sneha Subramanian, and Ashraful Haque 

Recent literature focused on education in conflict-affected settings firmly establishes the link between early childhood interventions, poverty reduction, and the effects of adverse childhood experiences, particularly for those exposed to violent conflict. A key factor of effective interventions targeting young children and their families, and thus the long-term sustainability of behavior change, is how those interventions are received by local populations. Despite the importance of understanding local perspectives, needs assessments are often deprioritized when the focus is on meeting the immediate need for safety, food, water, and shelter. In the absence of a needs assessment, programming is developed without understanding the key priorities and motivations of the communities served. Given that the average length of protracted refugee situations is now more than 20 years, early childhood development programming designed without local perspectives brings with it the possibility of long-term repercussions, little community buy-in, and, consequently, limited to no impact. Therefore, the long-term costs of not doing needs assessments in humanitarian contexts are likely to far exceed the initial investments in conducting such research. In acknowledgment of these opportunities and constraints, this article presents a framework for conducting a needs assessment in a humanitarian setting, along with illustrative findings that underscore the value of seeking greater understanding of a community before designing early childhood development programming. Using a needs assessment to inform the design of an early childhood development intervention for displaced Rohingya communities living in Bangladesh, this article uses the design of that assessment to provide a framework for operationalizing needs assessments in humanitarian settings.

Field Note: BRAC Humanitarian Play Lab Model: Promoting Healing, Learning and Development for Displaced Rohingya Children
Erum Mariam, Jahanara Ahmad, and Sarwat Sarah Sarwar

In August 2017, almost a million Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar; 55 percent of them were children. BRAC, one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the world, operates an initiative called the Humanitarian Play Lab model for children ages 0-6 in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. The intervention combines play-based learning with psychosocial support from para-counselors to promote positive developmental outcomes for children in crisis settings. Designed using a community-based participatory approach that promotes a sense of pride and belonging among those living in a displaced community, the play model strongly emphasizes the importance indigenous cultural practices play in healing and learning. This field note, which describes the key features of the play model, covers the period of implementation from its start in October 2017 up to December 2019. Our intended audience includes policymakers, practitioners, and other advocates for early childhood development and play who are working to promote child development and well-being in humanitarian settings. We offer this description as a case study of how providing play-based learning to children in emergency situations may help mitigate the detrimental long-term effects of displacement and trauma.

Field Note: Accessible Strategies to Support Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing in Emergencies: Experience from the Rohingya Refugee Camp
Samier Mansur

More than half a billion children globewide currently live in conflict or crisis contexts (UNICEF 2016), including more than 30 million displaced and refugee children (UNICEF 2020). The extreme and often prolonged adversity suffered in these environments can have lifelong physical, psychological, and socioeconomic consequences for children, and thus for society, and can affect an entire generation. Despite these dire consequences, less than 0.14 percent of global humanitarian financial aid is allocated to child mental health (Save the Children 2019). Frontline aid workers and parents and guardians often lack access to early childhood development training, and to the resources needed to meaningfully address the unique challenges faced by children living in crisis and conflict environments, including their mental health and wellbeing. To meet these critical knowledge and resource gaps, No Limit Generation, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, developed a video training platform to equip frontline aid workers, parents, and guardians across the globe to support the wellbeing of vulnerable children. No Limit Generation then conducted a monthlong pilot study in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to test this technology-driven training approach. In this field note, we describe our program design and pilot findings, which we consider a possible strategy for delivering sustainable and scalable early childhood development training and resources to workers on the front lines. Our hope is that this innovative work will help young children around the world heal, grow, and thrive, and ultimately achieve their full potential. 

Commentary: Newborns in Fragile and Humanitarian Settings: A Multi-Agency Partnership Roadmap
Saverio Bellizzi, Lori McDougall, Sheila Manji, and Ornella Lincetto

In this Commentary, authors Saverio Bellizzi, Lori McDougall, Sheila Manji, and Ornella Lincetto discuss how growing recognition of the need for coordinated support for newborns in humanitarian settings led Save the Children, UNICEF, UNHCR, and WHO to develop a seminal mapping of actions to ensure that babies and mothers survive and thrive in emergency contexts.

Commentary: Supporting Maternal Mental Health and Nurturing Care in Humanitarian Settings
Bernadette Daelmans, Mahalakshmi Nair, Fahmy Hanna, Ornella Lincetto, Tarun Dua, and Xanthe Hunt

In this Commentary, authors Bernadette Daelmans, Mahalakshmi Nair, Fahmy Hanna, Ornella Lincetto, Tarun Dua, and Xanthe Hunt bring attention to the cascading effects of caregivers’ mental health for children’s development and outline an agenda for interagency priority-setting and research to support mothers’ and newborns’ mental wellbeing.

Commentary: Children with Developmental Disorders in Humanitarian Settings: A Call for Evidence and Action
Xanthe Hunt, Theresa Betancourt, Laura Pacione, Mayada Elsabbagh, and Chiara Servili

In this Commentary, authors Xanthe Hunt, Theresa Betancourt, Laura Pacione, Mayada Elsabbagh, and Chiara Servili present the principles that should guide action to support children with developmental disorders and other disabilities and make recommendations for programming, policy, and future research.

Book Review: Collaborative Cross-Cultural Research Methodologies in Early Care and Education Contexts, edited by Samara Madrid Akpovo, Mary Jane Moran, and Robyn Brookshire
Amy Jo Dowd

In this review of Collaborative Cross-Cultural Research Methodologies in Early Care and Education Contexts, edited by Samara Madrid Akpovo, Mary Jane Moran, and Robyn Brookshire, Amy Jo Dowd highlights the practical lessons that this edited volume offers for conducting ECD research that is mindful of context, positionality, relationship, and reciprocity across cultures.

Book Review: Early Childhood Development in Humanitarian Crises: South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda by Sweta Shah
Kate Schwartz

In this review of Early Childhood Development in Humanitarian Crises: South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda by Sweta Shah, Kate Schwartz highlights how Shah draws from a rich variety of disciplines, contexts, and frames to provide a comprehensive picture of ECD in humanitarian settings: its potential, its limitations, and its critical role for children living in crisis and conflict.