Date: 24-07-2023

SPYNKA centers support 10,000 Ukrainian children and families in Poland

SPYNKA centers support 10,000 Ukrainian children and families in Poland

Since the start of the war in February 2022, approximately 1.6 million Ukrainian refugees are reported to have fled to Poland. Of this number, a large majority are women and children. This has caused a challenge as these mothers require support with childcare and children need a safe and supportive environment to stay. However, the current system of care for nursery and pre-school children is struggling to keep up with these needs. In its effort to respond to these challenges, ISSA Member, Comenius Foundation for Child Development (known in Poland as Fundacja Rozwoju Dzieci (FRD), has developed the SPYNKA program to serve both of these needs.

The expansion of the SPYNKA Program

In the early weeks of the war, FRD began the SPYNKA program by opening “drop-in” childcare centers next to the refugee services offices, and under the SPYNKA program facilitated Playgroups in high density Ukrainian communities. Based on needs assessments of Ukrainian mothers participating in the early pilot programs, it became clear that the overwhelming need of these parents was for full day education and care that would provide education but also childcare so that mothers could work.

Over the past year the program has expanded with financial support from UNICEF. FRD now has over 75 centers in eight voivodeships (provinces) — exactly half of Poland — and has had contact with around 10,000 children and almost the same number of mothers. While the SPYNKA centers began as non-formal services, FRD is in the process of registering the centers as official day-care centers.

Holistic, child oriented ECE

The SPYNKA centers provide high quality education in a holistic, participatory and child-oriented manner, aiming to provide support and social connection for children from Ukraine. In addition to preparing the children for school, the SPYNKA program has a bigger goal: “to prepare them for life”, says Monika Rościszewska-Woźniak, Director of FRD. The project aims to equip children with socio-emotional and communication skills that will help them learn and thrive, settle, and make friends. These fundamental skills will equip them with strong foundations that will last a lifetime.

As a result of their attendance at the SPYNKA centers, parents have reported many positive changes in their children. For example, that their children are playing more calmly, communicating with their peers, and looking forward to Monday’s when they can go back to the centers. On this, Monika reflects that, “I think the most wonderful thing is that children like to be there. They feel secure. They love to make friends from Ukraine.”

FRD fully equips the centers with games, books, and art supplies. Additionally, FRD provides hot meals for everyone in centers that are open for more than five hours a day.

Equipping educators with skills

Over the past year, FRD has trained more than 200 educators with the necessary skills to work in the SPYNKA centers. Ninety percent of these are Ukrainians and the vast majority are women. While some of these educators were teachers in Ukraine, many come from diverse career backgrounds. Each caregiver receives 160 hours of training and a certificate qualifying them to work as an early childhood education and care (ECEC) provider in Poland. They receive an additional 120 hours of continuing education throughout the year. FRD is also working on how to support the psychological wellbeing of the educators as they cannot help the children if they are struggling themselves.

One challenge for the educators has been in learning how to structure their relationships with each other (they work in teams of three) and work autonomously — as many come from backgrounds where they are used to having a supervisor. Additionally, as many have not worked in this field before, Monika says that “they would like very clear instructions” but this is not possible as the needs of different children vary so much. FRD has overcome this challenge by developing a curriculum for them which is in the piloting phase.

The importance of working with local governments

Over the past 20 years, FRD has created a system in which the foundation partners with local governments and municipalities to create programs which the local governments can take over, thus it is very important to have the support of local governments. However, in setting up the SPYNKA program, FRD encountered a challenge in that many municipalities in Poland are currently suffering a financial crisis and do not have the available space or capacity to partner as almost all the spaces have been turned into shelters — meaning that FRD have had to privately rent spaces themselves, which is costly.

The challenge of financial sustainability

One of the last pressing challenges that FRD faces with the SPYNKA program is in funding and sustainability. According to Monika, “donors and partners often have a short-term vision and cannot predict the financial extent of the project.” Most of the centers are now funded through the end of 2023 but the challenge is how to keep the funding coming beyond the end of the year as funding for refugee services is drying up across the board even though the need continues. Monika anticipates that the war will not have ended by then and that children will continue to be heavily affected by it. It is important that the centers can continue to be financed and supported without jeopardizing the quality of the services.

A crucial resource for children and parents

Over the past year, the SPYNKA centers have been a crucial resource for children, allowing them to learn, play, and re-establish a sense of normality. The centers have been equally important for mothers and caregivers, to support them with childcare — allowing them to take time away for themselves, to be able to work to meet the family’s needs, and as a valuable touch point for parents to provide them with support and social contacts as they integrate and adjust to life in Poland. It has also been a priority for Comenius Foundation for Child Development to support the psychological wellbeing of educators, parents, and children, having suffered months of stress. This is essential to enable refugees to build a healthy life and integrate in the new community.

Listen to a presentation on the SPYNKA centers to learn more about this invaluable service in Poland.