Date: 27-02-2014

New report on early childhood education and care services for the youngest children

  • Most of the services for this age group in CEE/CIS lack infrastructure and national coverage
  • The survey comprises the majority of the Central Eastern European countries and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS), with responses from ISSA members in those countries

As a result of a survey developed among 29 of ISSA’s full members in May 2013, the new publication, Early Childhood Education and Care Services for Children from Birth to Three years Old, makes a significant contribution to understanding the need for action in early childhood services serving the youngest children and their families across Central Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS). The publication provides a general picture on the strengths, weaknesses, and the gaps that exist in early childhood systems on relevant aspects like legislations, types of services and their financing as well as the quality of the professional staff and the access of the children to these services. Throughout its almost a hundred pages, the report addresses critical issues like the gap between the end of parental leave and the age when children can access early childhood services, which in most cases is at six months old. Whereas in countries like Albania children can enroll before the end of the maternal leave, there is a significant decline in financial support after the sixth month. In Croatia, the shortage of places in the crèches causes the gap when parents have to return to work before the baby is one year old. The lack of infrastructure, low national coverage especially in rural areas and the costs of the services make it very difficult for these countries to effectively implement what is stated by law. This situation leads to very low access to services in all ISSA regions, with 11 countries estimating it at less than 10%. The most vulnerable groups of children between birth and three years of age are children from rural areas, followed by those with special needs and those coming from very poor families. These are, in most of the Central Eastern European countries, Romani children. Moreover, although in general early childhood services are publicly funded, the administrative and financial decentralization of systems after the collapse of communism and socialism has led to local municipalities playing a greater role in funding and regulating early childhood services. This causes significant disparities between regions within countries and weakens their capacity to provide early childhood services according to the existing need. As a conclusion, ISSA encourages all its members and other relevant stakeholders to address these issues through dialogue and joint actions among partners from different sectors and organizations, advocating for a change in the following critical areas:

  • Greater access to services for children from birth to three and their families.
  • Greater investment in the professionals and paraprofessionals’ training to work with the youngest children and their families.
  • Lower adult/child ratios in the education centres.
  • More integrated education and care services.
  • Implementation of quality frameworks to monitor the services.
  • More coordination among the ministries involved in early childhood services.
  • More funding for parental programs.

Given the low coverage of crèches and day-care centres at the national level, as well as low access to them, parenting support programs are a high priority for many of the countries in the ISSA regions. The largest barrier to these kinds of programs appears to be lack of awareness of how relevant these services are to this age group, as well as lack of government/political support, including infrastructure to house programs. Mothers and fathers are seen as a group most in need when referring to early childhood services for children under three years of age. This is an area for advocacy and stronger and intervention support. 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 more information on the survey report, please contact Alejandra Mahiques at or download it: