ABU DHABI - Since its establishment in July 2019, the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA) has been working, in partnership with relevant entities, on developing a comprehensive early childhood development strategy for the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
On the 3rd anniversary of its establishment, ECA continues to seek the promotion of optimal development and well-being for Abu Dhabi’s children, supported by the wise vision of UAE's leadership, as well as its valuable partnerships with various sectors, entities and community members.
In addition to reviewing early childhood-related policies and programmes, ECA has taken responsibility for developing relevant legislation, policies and regulations, conducting specialised studies in the early childhood development (ECD), and sharing the industry’s best practices at the local, regional and global levels. The authority is also tasked with proposing the best solutions and recommendations, managing Abu Dhabi’s early childhood sector, and collaborating with relevant entities to develop and implement ECD plans and programmes.
In this regard, ECA focuses on four child-centred sectors, namely child protection, health and nutrition, family support, early care and education. In collaboration with its partners, ECA is working on supporting and developing these sectors for their crucial role in achieving holistic development for children, thus raising healthy, active and responsible generations who are capable of making a positive change in the future In a statement to the Emirates News Agency (WAM), Sana Mohamed Suhail, ECA's Director-General, said, "For child protection, ECA has conducted, in collaboration with partners, a detailed audit and analysis for challenges in all aspects of Abu Dhabi’s child protection system. In collaboration with 12 local and federal government entities, ECA has developed a holistic child protection strategy for Abu Dhabi."
"To enhance child protection outcomes, the Authority identified four key prevention programmes, including Safe Schools, Positive Parenting, Community Awareness Raising, and Improving Parents Mental Health. Furthermore, ECA has created actionable tools to strengthen child protection in Abu Dhabi, including matrix of forms of child maltreatment, five components of child abuse response, and a quick reference guide for health practitioners.
"ECA has published, in collaboration with partners, practical manuals and guidelines, including Child Online Protection Guide (ages 0-8) and Child Protection Policy and Manual for Educational institutions, in coordination with the Department of Education And Knowledge. The Authority has also commissioned actionable research on adverse childhood experiences with local and international universities, including development of a first-of-its-kind predictive analysis tool to enable early identification of potential child abuse cases," she added.
According to Suhail, ECA has expanded coordination between government entities at local and federal levels in child protection, including providing technical support to establish child protection units within eight government entities and harmonising policies and practices among relevant entities. She also affirmed ECA's support to Abu Dhabi's health and social sectors in scoping the comprehensive mental health, addiction prevention, people of determination and early intervention strategies for the Emirate.
"In addition to supporting the establishment of the Multi-sectoral Abu Dhabi Family and Child Protection Committee, ECA has commissioned studies related to justice system and the potential of raising criminal responsibility age in coordination with the Ministry of Interior. ECA has also facilitated review of several human rights initiatives related to child protection in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
"With respect to family support, ECA has conducted, in collaboration with partners, a detailed assessment of more than 60 ECD services and resources in Abu Dhabi, to identify strengths, gaps and areas of improvement. Besides, the Authority has developed a comprehensive Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) strategy for the emirate," she explained In response to COVID-19 pandemic, ECA has supported the establishment of the UAE’s first child vaccination centre, and publishing a dedicated Parents’ Toolkit containing reliable information on COVID-19 vaccines. The Authority has also developed a comprehensive health and nutrition guide for children (0-2 years).
The Director-General indicated that ECA has utilised Ma’an Social Impact Bonds in implementing targeted measures to better understand and proactively respond to the specific needs of parents of young children experiencing divorce or separation. ECA developed and monitored the implementation of the Positive Parenting pilot programme in Abu Dhabi, including the training of local coordinators and the tailoring of relevant resources to parents.
Moreover, ECA has launched the Parent Friendly Label (PFL), an innovative initiative aims to recognise parent-friendly workplaces in Abu Dhabi and promote a more parent-friendly work culture in the emirate. In June, President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has honoured ECA among organisations that received the PFL in its 1st cycle. His Highness has directed to scale the initiative to all of the country's organisations, Suhail added.
ECA has finalised a draft of Early Childhood Parents Support Strategy and conducted groundbreaking Knowledge, Attitude and Practice Study on parenting behaviors in Abu Dhabi, she further said, adding, "To support families of children of determination, ECA has conducted a survey for their parents, designed a framework for an integrated early intervention system for the emirate, and developed a dedicated pilot programme and resource guide to support new parents of children of determination. In addition to launching a programme to support nurseries in Abu Dhabi during COVID-19 pandemic, ECA increased coordination between the local and federal entities in early education. This included contributing to developing and reviewing draft national laws, policies, and programmes."
She noted that ECA has published a comprehensive ECD policy-making guide in collaboration with relevant government entities, stating that the Authority has also developed, in collaboration with relevant government entities, a draft for the comprehensive child protection policy that unites all relevant stakeholders in a strategic manner, improving coordination between entities and safeguarding the emirate's children.
Explaining ECA's efforts to improve ECD policies and legislation, Suhail said, "To support working parents, ECA has conducted targeted survey on maternity and paternity leave among parents working in Abu Dhabi's public sector. Further, the Authority commissioned study on parent-friendly workplace practices in coordination with Human Resources Authority, leading to evidence-based recommendations to human resources and labor regulations in the emirate."
ECA has implemented an innovative experiment to spend time without mobile devices in cafes and restaurants in Abu Dhabi. The Authority has also published Healthy Use of Technology Guide for children aged 0-8 years. ECA has also partnered with the Federal Government to help review and consider revisions to ECD-related federal laws and regulations, including existing laws regarding domestic violence and children of unknown parentage, she added.
Suhail stated that ECA has developed a comprehensive human capital strategy to enhance domestic ECD capabilities in partnership with eight local and federal government entities.
She pointed to the several tools launched by ECA to measure and improve outcomes of ECD practitioners and services. These include a standardised competencies framework for ECD practitioners, a flexible supply and demand model for the staffing of 46 prioritised ECD positions over the next ten years, an accessible database of 102 ECD-related positions, and an annual ECD workforce survey.
"In coordination with the NYU Abu Dhabi, ECA has developed and presented training programmes on ECD fundamentals to over 50 local practitioners and 50 policymakers in Abu Dhabi. The Authority has also developed, in coordination with Georgetown University and three local universities, a training programme in Arabic and English for over 100 child protection specialists in 2020, and more than 180 specialists in 2021. Moreover, ECA launched targeted programmes to improve the competencies of hotline workers, managers of family shelters and other social support facilities in the Emirate. ECA further conducted a study to explore ways to boost skills of domestic workers and raise their awareness about their crucial role to ensure children’s development."
Suhail mentioned that ECA has also conducted a study involving more than 330 female jobseekers in the ECCE sector and a cross-section of potential employers to inform relevant skills development programmes. She further added that ECA, in partnership with the US-based National Children’s Advocacy Centre (NCAC), has provided a specialised training on forensic interviews with children to over 100 professionals working across the social, educational and healthcare sectors.
"The Authority also provided a practical training on child development and quality learning improvements in four languages to over 5,800 teachers at more than 580 nurseries across the Emirate. Besides, ECA has supported ECCE practitioners and organisations in addressing COVID-19 challenges by developing materials and providing training to more than 22,000 nursery employees across the UAE on Safe Return to School Protocols for 2020-2021."
In terms of knowledge-sharing and outreach, Suhail revealed that ECA has launched its annual community programme "Takween", featuring a set of various educational and recreational activities. The programme's offerings are available on Parents’ Platform, the first local platform specialised presenting curated content on ECD-related topics.
By hosting 210 workshops for more than 30,000 parents on various aspects of children’s development, ECA worked on raising awareness about ECD fundamentals and available child-centred services in Abu Dhabi. The Authority has also launched interactive "Knowledge Maze" event at Umm Al Emarat Park, she noted.
"In collaboration with international academic institutions and local experts, ECA has developed and published integrated guides for parents focused on the three development stages of pregnancy, children aged 0-1 year, and children aged 2-3 years."
Suhail said that ECA has partnered with UNICEF to develop and launched the Child Protection Social and Behavioral Communications Strategy, adding that the Authority established diverse advisory bodies to support its activities, including the Voice of Child Panel representing parents from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, and the ECD Expert Panel comprised of 12 local and international ECD subject matter experts.
She further indicated that ECA has developed, supported and implemented a wide range of public awareness campaigns, including on learning through play, safe outdoor play, dental health, maternal health, premarital counseling, effects of divorce on child development, and child vaccinations.
Suhail has shed light the World Early Childhood Development (WED) Movement, launched by ECA. The initiative brings together the world’s leading experts, innovators and disrupters to create and disseminate knowledge, facilitate collaboration with stakeholders, and improve ECD outcomes in Abu Dhabi and beyond. The 1st WED Forum was held in Abu Dhabi, featuring 250 experts, thinkers, and specialists who participated in 40 engaging talks, panel discussions, and roundtables. In addition, over 500 children have joined the Fun Run organised in partnership with Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
With regard to research and innovation, Suhail said that ECA has designed and established a targeted Grants Programme for 2021-22. The programme called for proposals addressing specific knowledge gaps in the ECD landscape related to early interventions for Children of Determination and chronic absenteeism. To date, five grants have been awarded. The Authority has also launched a research working group bringing together key researchers from universities and academic institutions, along with research managers from relevant public and private entities in the emirate.
Finally, Suhail noted that ECA has developed and implemented the innovative Anjal Z programme. In partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, the programme aims to attract promising international ECD start-ups to Abu Dhabi by inviting them to participate in an 8-week programme providing investment and hands-on support, to enable them localise their offerings in Abu Dhabi. A total of 12 start-ups from two cohorts have been on-boarded to date.
She added that ECA, in partnership with international vendors, has been developing the transformative Abu Dhabi Child Insights System, to provide a multi-sectoral data analytics platform that collects child-related data from more than 15 public and private entities in Abu Dhabi. The system aims to identify children in potentially vulnerable situations, enable early interventions for children in need, and support evidence-based policy decision-making in Abu Dhabi. The system was selected as the Most Innovative UAE Government Project of the year and received the "UAE Innovates 2022" Award.