Column: Latin America childcare policies – hurting or helping?

Children in a classroom in El Renacimiento school in Villa Nueva, Guatemala. (Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection)

As much as government intervention is an unwanted guest, it plays an important role in influencing child well being from birth onwards, creating some equality among economic classes. The way a child is raised and shaped depends mainly on their home life, but also on their experiences at school and outside of the home from a very young age. Improving public policy can extremely benefit the quality of education and childcare centers, and in several countries throughout the Latin American region, these policy reformations are necessary.  

According to an article in The Economist, Latin American governments spend only 0.4 percent of GDP on children under six, compared to 1.6 percent on children aged six to 12. Public spending is not focused on the youngest, even though these years are the most critical in a child’s life. 

The Inter-American Development Bank recently completed a study on children from birth to the age of eight in the region of Latin America, and how public intervention can improve the future of a child. Within this study, it is discovered that investing in early childhood is extremely beneficial in countries where poverty is prevalent. Children that are not parented with carefulness and responsibility in their youngest years will feel the repercussions for the rest of their lives. The quality of public services in Latin America is below average, and the IDB found that the simplest community care is better than what many of the region’s countries have invested in. 

Children that are not parented with carefulness and responsibility in their youngest years will feel the repercussions for the rest of their lives.

Current public policies throughout Latin America are focused on expanding pre-primary education and daycare, but not in the most efficient ways. In Colombia, daycare centers that cost $1 million to build are understaffed and poorly supervised. Their running costs are extremely high, almost four times that of basic community care centers, and the treatment given to children is less than adequate.

Another study in Ecuador by the IDB examined 15,000 kindergarten students, assigned them to random teachers and looked at their cognitive and language skills after learning for a certain amount of time. The research found that the teaching quality varied widely among classrooms in the same preschool – some teachers were twice as effective as others. 

Although Latin America seems to be slowly increasing their investments in early childhood development, are the results cohesive with that of which they are spending? A different IDB study called “Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean” analyzed children from zero to three in 19 different countries amongst these regions and whether the quality of child care services matches up to the rate of expansion. Enrollment in child development programs and day care centers increased 117 percent in the past five years, while staffing only increased by 61 percent.

The health standards of these childcare centers are also not properly monitored – health and safety issues are only censored at 44 percent of centers, and along with this micronutrients are only supplied at four out of 10 programs. 

The other government services important to childhood development that exist, besides daycare centers, are community-based programs. These are very widely used in countries such as Peru, Colombia and Ecuador and might consist of a mother hosting and feeding eight to 10 children in her home, while receiving a government subsidy for doing so. Meanwhile, in the South of Latin America in Chile and Argentina, child development programs are almost the opposite – institutions with children are grouped by age and cared for by staff rather than a mother. 

It was determined by the IDB that childcare services cost substantially more than parenting programs, maybe pointing to the fact that Latin American governments need to redirect their investments towards sending health workers to poverty stricken homes rather than building million dollar institutions with no professionally trained staff. Politicians may not be attracted to this option since no immediate benefits will appear, but today’s children heavily impact the future and they should be meticulously  cared for at their earliest stages. 


Aly McTague is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyvia.mctague@uconn.edu.