Childcare: An overlooked response to emergencies

Childcare: An overlooked response to emergencies
Batten Professor Lucy Bassett and co-authors write in an article for UNICEF that childcare is an often overlooked emergency in humanitarian crisis.

Providing childcare in humanitarian emergencies is a win-win strategy for women and children. It’s time to make it a reality for more families.

Everyone reading this has likely experienced, or knows someone who has experienced, childcare challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, lockdowns and physical distancing left millions of parents struggling to find childcare while continuing to work. Although more attention has now been given to the childcare issue – in low-income as well as high- and middle-income countries – the specific challenges facing families in acute and protracted crises are still being overlooked.

According to the World Bank, more than 40 per cent of all children below primary-school entry age do not have access to the childcare they need, including millions of children and their caregivers affected by humanitarian crises and the COVID-19 pandemic. Childcare is especially important in humanitarian settings. In these contexts, primary caregivers often have fewer resources and less time to provide socioemotional and cognitive stimulation for their children while taking care of themselves.

In addition, children in humanitarian settings are more likely to be living in unsafe environments, especially during crises with high levels of violence or displacement, putting them at higher risk of abuse and neglect. The provision of childcare is about more than just ensuring that children are being supervised in a safe environment – it’s also an opportunity to provide other services, such as healthcare and nutrition, water and sanitation, stimulation and responsive care and opportunities for early learning, all of which are crucial to early childhood development.

Coping in crises  

When high-quality childcare is available, children have the chance to build strong, close relationships with caregivers and receive support managing stress, which is essential in helping them deal with conflict and crisis. It can also bring back a sense of normalcy in their lives. Meanwhile, caregivers – especially women who carry the burden of care because of cultural norms – get some respite from childcare responsibilities, which can boost their mental health and give them much-needed time to work, collect food, access shelter, and/or carry out other tasks to support their families and cope with crisis. Access to childcare also gives young girls, who too often have to care for younger children, an opportunity to attend school. 

But what could childcare in emergency context look like? A new brief by UNICEF and the University of Virginia Humanitarian Collaborative identifies critical elements for effective childcare in emergency contexts, and highlights three ways to deliver it.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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