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Early childhood development is essential in emergencies

Many people think that young children are less impacted by emergencies and conflict than their older peers – however the opposite is true.

Carer with children and a Plan International 'Big Blue Bag' of play materials, Philippines
Plan International 'Big Blue Bags' of play materials helped children affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013

Young children are particularly at risk of death, injury and separation from their families during crises. The impacts can have lifelong, negative impacts on their development.

Furthermore, emergencies can trigger an extreme form of prolonged stress, known as toxic stress: this has been shown to actually disrupt how the brain grows during the first years of life, with permanent effects on a child’s development.

Ensuring that the youngest children are provided nutrition, health services, loving care and ongoing opportunities to play and learn in emergency and conflict situations is therefore essential. 

Globally, Plan International is filling a critical gap by including Early Childhood Development (ECD) in our response to emergencies and is fast becoming a leading agency in this area.

Philippines: Big Blue Bag

Plan International Philippines was one of the first to work on ECD in emergencies. The team developed the ‘Big Blue Bag’ - a kit of culturally relevant toys and play materials that can be used with pre-school aged children in emergency and temporary shelters.

Child development workers were trained to use the kit and to support family members to make other toys from locally available materials. The Big Blue Bag was used with play groups in disaster-affected areas following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Later, Plan International spearheaded the standardisation of early childhood care and development (ECCD) kits for emergencies and partnered with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to develop a training programme for day care workers that has since been rolled out across the country. 

Nepal: Mobile services

Plan International mobile teams trek to reach cut-off communities following the Nepal earthquake
A mobile team trekking to reach cut-off communities in Nepal

In Nepal, after earthquakes hit in 2015 killing nearly 9,000 people and destroying thousands of buildings (including early learning, health, community spaces and homes), Plan International started mobile services to reach those cut off from humanitarian and ECD support. 

Teams from the local communities, with backgrounds in early learning and child development, child protection, basic health and nutrition and community mobilisation, started going from village to village to provide ECD services in the open. 

The mobile teams carried backpacks with toys and key materials and helped to provide ECD services to children unable to access temporary learning spaces or schools. 

Central African Republic: ECD task force

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been embroiled in armed conflict since 2012, resulting in massive population displacement with large numbers of children killed, injured, separated, abused and denied access to basic services.  

Prior to the conflict, access to ECD services, including parenting programming, was virtually non-existent outside the capital, as a result of insufficient investment, political will and technical expertise. 

Plan International and UNICEF established an ECD task force and Plan International conducted a needs assessment that showed large gaps in ECD services. Together, we supported the government to expand access to early learning opportunities for all children aged 3-6 years.

Children attended spaces for play and learning for 25 hours per week, offered in community ECD centres, primary schools and child-friendly spaces. Parenting groups were co-created and offered educational sessions and play activities.

In parallel, Plan International and UNICEF engaged with various ministries – forming an inter-ministerial ECD committee – and agreed to collaborate to provide multi-sectoral ECD services for children aged 0-6 years. 

ECD for 3-6 year olds is now a key priority within the Ministry of Education’s education transition plan. 

Learn more about our ECCD in emergencies work