It is universally recognized that the period of early childhood is one of the most important phases for the development and well-being of any child. The intimate contact between mother and child will significantly shape the child’s future disposition, and early diagnosis of any deviation becomes paramount for dedicated care.

The importance of Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) for the development of children with disabilities (as for all vulnerable children) has gained considerable recognition since the 1990s.

Early age is also mentioned four times in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Several ECI support services have been developed in recent years, such as diagnosis and assessment, home-based care and family support models, tools and toolkits, and Early Intervention Centres.

The wide gap

Still, Early Childhood Intervention is far from being mainstreamed into national policies and financial support mechanism for children with disabilities. There are many reasons for this wide gap, and arguably one of the most prominent is the fact that the period of early childhood (in most countries aged 0–6) is not covered by national education systems. Education comes later, and so do government attention and budgets.

In-depth research into Innovative Practices

The first edition of the Zero Project Analysis covers eight outstanding Innovative Practices on Early Childhood Intervention, with a focus on Central and Eastern European countries. With the Analysis, the Zero Project starts a new in-depth research on innovations in accessibility, inclusion and disability. A key element of this description is the graphic facilitation that is an integrative part of our “storytelling.”

The following Innovative Practices were selected jointly with the EASPD, and using the expert and peer network of both the Zero Project and the EASPD:

Armenia: Save the Children International – Access to ECD centres in rural communities

Bulgaria: For Our Children Foundation – Supporting families to focus on abilities and not deficits

Bulgaria: Karin Dom Foundation – Early assessment coupled with early intervention

Croatia: Mali Dom – How parents learn to raise their children at home

Greece: Theotokos Foundation – Step by step into inclusive kindergarten and school

Ireland: National Federation of Voluntary Bodies – Inform ing families sensitively about their child’s disability

Moldova: Lumos Foundation – Reducing infant mortality in Europe’s poorest country

Slovakia: SOCIA – Social Reform Foundation – A growing network of private support centres.

The selected Innovative Practice share several features:

  • Family-based. All of the project put the family in the heart of all efforts to support the child, and some start at the earliest time possible – when the family is told that their child will have a disability.
  • De-Institutionalisation. Thus, all of them support de-institutionalisation.
  • Multi-Stakeholder approach. A lot of skills and expertise has been developed by the selected Innovative Practices how to include all necessary experts in the education process and make them work together, and – one of the most important features in real life – on an equal footing with the parents. From psychologists to social workers, from local authorities to personal assistants and even bus drivers.
  • Most of the selected Practices are, partly or fully, located in Early Childhood Intervention Centers.
  • Step-by-step towards Primary Schools. Finally most of the target the inclusion of every child in mainstream kindergarten and primary schools, and start again early, and with step-by-step approaches.

One of the selection criteria was the identification of solutions that work and can be spread in all European countries, outside the „very rich”. This explains the fact that most of the selected Practices have been developed in countries without well established welfare states, making it easier to be take them into other countries, including of course the „very rich”.

The written report of Zero Project Analysis was presented at the Annual EASPD Conference which took place in Chisinau/Moldova for April 20 to 22, 2016.

The report and all individual case-studies can be downloladed for free in the Download-section of the Zero Project website as well as on the website of the EASPD.