Date: 06-10-2014

International Conference to focus on transforming the future of Early Childhood Development

  • The event marks the 15th anniversary of the International Step by Step Association

Hundreds of experts will gather in Budapest between 10-12 October, 2014 to discuss new ways forward in supporting children around the world reach their full potential. The International Step by Step Association (ISSA) is organizing the conference. This year’s conference, Creating a society for all: reconsidering early childhood services, focuses on the transformations that the early childhood services have undergone over the past 25 years and will urge participants to re-considering what still needs to be done. Close to 450 participants will discuss, share and learn around this challenging theme, focusing on three main strands:

  • Democratic values and practices in early childhood systems
  • Inclusion, equity and quality: the keys to reaching all children and families
  • A comprehensive approach to early childhood services and systems

“We have reached a turning point in the history of early childhood. The crucial role for quality early childhood services is much more widely recognized than ever before. Major expansion means numerous programs and services are now available: a next step is to work towards a more comprehensive vision for high quality early childhood services” summarizes Prof. Emeritus of Childhood Studies at The Open University, Martin Woodhead, and the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Early Childhood Program at the Open Society Foundations, one of the eight keynote speakers in the conference. His opening speech will highlight the thematic focus of the event: the need for a life-course, holistic, rights-based, inclusive and equitable vision on early childhood services. Kathleen Lynch, Professor of Equality Studies at University College Dublin, will focus on key principles for more egalitarian and inclusive early childhood education and care services, while the Roma experts Marian Daragiu and Dr. Adrian Marsh will draw attention to the crucial role families and communities play in the early years of Romani and Traveller children, in line with the mission of the Romani Early Years Network (REYN) founded by ISSA and the Open Society Foundations in 2012. Kirsi Madi, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for the CEE/CIS region will highlight the importance of collaboration and partnerships across different actors and sectors for early childhood development. She will speak about the importance of innovative cross-sectoral solutions to reduce risks and improve opportunities for the youngest children: “There is consensus on the importance of investing in early childhood development and early learning. However, much work needs to be done to reduce the equity gap for the young children on the margins of society to help improve their early learning opportunities,” highlights Madi. The imperative and arguments for integrated and comprehensive early childhood services will be drawn by Frank Oberklaid, Professor at the University of Melbourne, Department of Paediatrics, bringing a cross-sectoral discourse, whereas Nóra Milotay, Policy Officer at the European Commission (DG Education and Culture) will address the need for increased quality early childhood services in Europe and the contribution that the recently-developed European Quality Framework can make to this endeavor. Dr. Maria Herzog, President of Eurochild, will plea for young children as rights holders and citizens, for making the voices of all stakeholders heard, with special attention paid to vulnerable groups of children, families, communities. This year’s conference marks a special landmark in the history of the Open Society Foundations’ Step by Step Program. Twenty years ago, Open Society launched Step by Step to work with national governments, civil society groups, and communities to increase the quality, access, and comprehensiveness of early childhood services for all children, particularly for disadvantaged children. ISSA continues to build upon these accomplishments. Thus, the event represents the right moment to reflect on the past and the work carried out so far, in order to better define the future of Early Childhood Development in Europe and Central Asia. UNICEF is also an important collaborating partner in this milestone conference. In CEE/CIS countries, UNICEF plays a key role in supporting governments and civil society partners to advance the progressive realization of children’s rights. Its mission and mandate is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child which coincidentally is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014. UNICEF has partnered extensively with ISSA and other agencies to promote access, quality and equity in services for young children. The Conference will also serve as a platform to launch the new Early Years Regional Alliance (EYRA), founded by ISSA, Open Society Foundations, Save the Children and UNICEF in order to catalyze a movement for convergent, high quality and equitable services, for young children and their families. More information about the Alliance can be found on its new website The conference is organized in partnership with the Open Society Foundations, UNICEF, Diversity in Early Childhood Education and Training (DECET) and Partners Hungary Foundation, ISSA is a vibrant network that connects professionals and non-profit organizations working in the field of early childhood development. Established in the Netherlands in 1999, ISSA’s community today stretches across the globe with its more than 50 members primarily located in Europe and Central Asia. Building upon the Step by Step Program initiated by the Open Society Foundations in 1994, ISSA aims to ensure equal access to quality care and education for all young children from birth to 10 years old. This mission is implemented through three main pillars of action: equal access for all children; promoting high-quality and professionalism in early years services and empowering parents and communities to be part of the children’s development and learning. For further information please contact Alejandra Mahiques at: +31 (0) 684 147 190 (International Media – English) or Eva Deak at: +36 70 944 6279 (Hungarian Media). Visit the Conference website at