Date: 19-08-2023

The Primokiz approach put the puzzle together: Interview with Carmen Lica

The Primokiz approach put the puzzle together: Interview with Carmen Lica

Thanks to the implementation of the Primokiz approach, 16 local development strategies with a strong early childhood development (ECD) component were developed in Romania. There is substantial funding allocated to ECD services that accompanies those strategies and huge knowledge staying within the municipality, available at the community level which is fundamental for the sustainability of the investment. The Primokiz approach outlines the main arguments for investing in early childhood services and offers a structured seven-phased process for building local leadership to develop, tailor, and improve local early childhood services, across sectors, with the contribution of trained Primokiz facilitators. Moreover, it provides guidance for every step of the process — building capacity at the local level to identify and respond to the needs of children and families.  

In Romania, through Primokiz approach, local municipalities can access various sources of funds and core local teams to whom local authorities could turn when needed. This happened, for example, when the war in Ukraine began and municipalities needed to support the education and care needs of young children coming from Ukraine. Primokiz approach in Romania is implemented by ISSA (International Step by Step Association) Member, Centrul Step by Step. At the national level, Centrul Step by Step advocates for including in the National Plan for Recovery and Resilience funds to build 110 new creches and sets up non-formal services delivering support to young children and families. In 18 out of 22 Romanian municipalities adopting the Primokiz approach, Centrul Step by Step set up non-formal services called Primohubs, welcoming especially children under three years of age and their parents.  

In February 2023, the ISSA Secretariat hosted an introductory Primokiz workshop in Bucharest, Romania. Experts from the ISSA Secretariat accompanied by experts from Centrul Step by Step from Romania and Step by Step Center for Quality in Education from Slovenia provided training to four peer organizations in the network on using the Primokiz methodology. All ISSA Member organizations who participated are very active in their countries in shaping quality early childhood service solutions to meet the needs of the internally displaced in or refugee children from Ukraine. The newly trained ISSA Members learned how to provide technical support to municipalities in assessing the needs of families, enhancing cooperation among sectors, developing, and implementing early childhood strategies. 

After the workshop, staff from the ISSA Secretariat spoke with the Director of Centrul Step by Step Romania, Carmen Lica, to learn about how the experience of implementing the Primokiz approach in Romania in the past four years has been instrumental in supporting local municipalities to provide an attuned response to the needs of the incoming young refugees and their families.  


How did the knowledge and expertise you had in working with municipalities at local level through Primokiz help you to respond in not just better coordinated, but also meaningful and targeted way to the difficult situation created by the war in Ukraine? 

We learned very quickly after the war in Ukraine started that early childhood was not on the agenda, that everybody was focused on humanitarian aid. In the next phase, children who attended compulsory education in Ukraine were high on the agenda for finding solutions. So, early childhood was not necessarily a topic during the discussions that we had, both at local levels and at the central level with the Ministry of Education. We knew from our experience in working with the local authorities that these services were needed at the community level before the war started. So, when children from Ukraine arrived, they were even more important to be available. The expertise that we had in Primokiz allowed us to use shortened versions of the needs analysis because, as we went through the process, we put the important puzzle pieces together more easily. This is how we were able to use a big diversity of solutions and offer them to the local authorities so that they could pick them up. We were also able to introduce into the conversation very innovative solutions like hiring Ukrainian mothers to be with children and pair them with Romanian teachers to support them to offer learning activities and facilitate interactions with children. We also helped the local authorities to understand that if they provide early childhood services, this will not only be an opportunity for children, but will be an opportunity for the mothers to get some time for themselves to get settled and clear their minds in order to make the right decisions, to get the paperwork done and to get jobs eventually at the community level so that they can contribute in the community. 


Can you share your experience establishing Primokiz approach in Romania? How does being the part of network help your organization to work? 

We were in a privileged position to have had the experience of Romania Grows With You project and developing the Primohubs, and that we had a solution that we could offer very quickly to the communities hosting refugee children. That was the best thing that we could have done. On the other hand, I think being a part of the network was important because we had quick access to resources, not only financial, but also in terms of knowledge that we could use, share, and hear. For example, Psychological First Aid, and that was important. Having the network at the national level was also something that helped us to deliver very quickly and reach very easily the communities where we knew that refugees were settling in. 


What did it mean for you being a part of ISSA network and being a part of Ukraine Response Initiative, that ISSA put forward? 

We felt we were not alone, we learned from each other, and we could support each other because we were all facing a very new unexpected situation. We understood very quickly that we needed to stick together to get through it and help those who needed our help. We could reach out for advice, more knowledge, and extra expertise that we didn't have in our organizations. 


Learn about the successes of Primokiz approach in Romania here.