Early Childhood Development (ECD) policies and programs targeting young children and families, such as home visiting interventions, can positively impact a child’s development and lead to long-term health, education, and social benefits. These programs employ numerous professionals, paraprofessionals, and volunteers. It is essential for this early childhood workforce to be highly prepared and well-supported to ensure that young children have a strong foundation for healthy development and future success. Yet across sectors and countries, inadequate training, burdensome workloads, lack of supervision, poor wages, and other adverse conditions threaten the motivation and capacity of this workforce.
The Early Childhood Workforce Initiative (ECWI), hosted by International Step by Step Association and Results for Development, is a global effort to support practitioners. Under ECWI, a series of country studies will examine ways to strengthen and scale up a quality workforce.
The first of these studies focuses on Cuna Más, a large-scale ECD program in Peru that operates a home visiting service in rural areas to reach vulnerable young children as well as their caregivers and improve parenting behaviors, the home environment, and child outcomes. The Cuna Más home visiting service enjoys relatively high coverage and early results are promising: a recent impact evaluation by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) found large effects on children’s cognitive and language development. However, operating at scale presents challenges to quality and sustainability.
This report analyzes challenges and opportunities facing the diverse professionals and volunteers who deliver home visiting services, and offers a series of recommendations for the program to improve recruitment, training and preparation, support mechanisms, working conditions, and incentives for these workers. As one of few home visiting programs operating—and having been evaluated—at scale in low- and middle-income countries, Cuna Más holds valuable workforce lessons that may resonate more broadly with ECD programs and policymakers seeking to reach young children and families around the world:
- Supervision in the field is critical for the home visiting workforce, particularly in rural contexts where many workers have limited training or experience and work independently much of the time.
- In addition to delivering important content, educational materials are critical for empowering community home visitors who may not have the training or experience to otherwise provide guidance to young children and families. These materials provide structure and support that may seem like small inputs, but can be powerful tools and incentives for a volunteer workforce.
- Working in remote contexts can be stressful and presents challenges to which many actors may not be accustomed. It is important to identify and address workers’ travel-related barriers. This can help improve the motivation of and quality of life for this workforce, and allow them to focus on providing quality services.
- Career ladders and pay scales can reward both professionals and volunteers for their dedication, retain and leverage the experience of high-performing individuals, and encourage strong candidates to see working in ECD as a viable career path, rather than temporary employment.