The early years are critical for children’s development. Paid, largely informal childcare is becoming the ‘new normal’ for millions of pre-school children growing up in rapidly urbanising Africa. The NECS study is one of the first research studies to document and analyse the changing childcare situation in Nairobi slums, with the aim of addressing critical policy relevant knowledge gaps and informing intervention strategies that can be delivered at scale.
Using a variety of research methods, including in-depth interviews, household and childcare provider surveys and mapping, the NECS study will build a rigorous understanding of what childcare strategies are used and why in a typical Nairobi slum. The findings will provide important evidence to help guide action to improve early care for some of the world’s most vulnerable children at the most important time in their lives.
The early years are critical for children’s development. Early nurturing care can lay the foundation for human capital with lifelong benefits, while early adversity undermines brain development, learning and future earnings. This is increasingly well-recognised and attracting growing global health policy attention and funding.
Urban slums present a particularly challenging context to grow up in and are difficult places to care for a child. Shifting family and work structures mean that paid, largely informal, childcare seems to be becoming the ‘new normal’ for many preschool children living in rapidly urbanising Africa. However, little is known about the quality of this childcare or the ways in which it might be changing due to factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nairobi Early Childcare in Slums (NECS) study aims to address this knowledge gap through building a rigorous understanding of what childcare strategies are used and why in Nairobi slums, with a focus on provision and quality of paid childcare. Various methods are being employed, including in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with patients and carers, and a household survey on childcare strategies.
The research findings will help inform evaluation of quality, as well as the design and implementation, of interventions to support some of the world’s most vulnerable children during this important period of their lives.
Young children are especially vulnerable to times of shock, upheaval and adversity. COVID-19 is likely to be affecting all domains of nurturing care, with significant consequences for early childhood development. Better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on care for young children living in Nairobi slums is vital to mitigating negative consequences and ensuring the design and implementation of effective interventions to improve life chances for these children.
Through a series of computer assisted telephone interview surveys, the NECS COVID Impacts tracker (NECS-cit) sub-study is examining: how nurturing care for preschool-age children has changed over the course of the pandemic; how COVID-19 is influencing the health, nutrition and early development of these children; and parental/carer perceptions of the pandemic and its impact on children and their care.
The research focuses on Kibera, Kawangware and Mukuru-Viwandani, settings that are collectively typical of larger, longer established slums across Nairobi. All three slums are characterised by high levels of poverty, poor sanitation, inadequate shelter, poor infrastructure, high levels of insecurity and low rates of formal employment, which may have an impact on childcare options.
Through documenting and tracking the childcare situation in these Nairobi slums, as well as parental/carer perceptions, the research will help inform the design and rollout of both epidemic control initiatives and those supporting post-COVID-19 recovery.