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On June 28, the Regional Network for Measuring Child Development (REMDI) convened a virtual seminar to reflect on surveys that are used to measure early childhood development in the region. Panelists from Mexico, Colombia, and Chile spoke about the implementation of Colombia’s Longitudinal Survey 2019 (ELCO) and Mexico’s National Health and Nutrition Survey 2018 (ENSANUT).
This virtual panel featured Dr. Teresa Shamah Levy, Director of the Center for Research in Evaluation and Surveys (CIEE) of the National Institute of Public Health; Dr. Argelia Vázquez Salas, Professor of Early Childhood Development at the Directorate of Reproductive Health, Center for Research in Population Health and the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico (INSP); and Diana Carolina Peña Bolívar, Internal Working Group on Social Capital coordinator at the National Administrative Department of Statistics of Colombia (DANE). Comments on the presentation were made by Dr. Paula Bedregal, specialist on public health, psychology and family medicine for children. This seminar was moderated by Giorgina Garibotto, Director of Management and Knowledge Generation for Uruguay Crece Contigo MIDES and coordinator of the Technical Secretariat of REMDI.
Mexico’s Encuesta Nacional de Salud y Nutrición 2018 (ENSANUT)
Dr. Teresa Shamah Levy spoke about three important trends in child development. First, she reflected on childhood as a priority stage in the positive reception of public policies and programs. Then she spoke about the need to take advantage of this window of opportunity to enhance children’s well-being. Finally, she pointed out the role of monitoring childhood indicators as a fundamental tool for making decisions and focusing resources. Measuring early childhood development sought to generate information that was truthful, culturally appropriate and that would allow the production of indicators aligned with the country’s regulatory and public policy framework. ENSANUT’s objective was to generate timely information for the construction of diagnoses and indicators to guide policies and programs that directly affect children’s health, development and well-being. Shamah Levy stressed that all collected information is transparent and the methodological and sample design, as well as the instruments for collecting information, can be freely accessed.
Dr. Argelia Vázquez Salas shared the methodology of ENSANUT, which sought to take into account that child development is a continuous process and depends on social determinants such as poverty, marginalization and education. These factors determine early childhood development through aspects such as health and nutrition, stimulation and care, early learning, safety and protection. Vázquez Salas presented four areas and indicators of early childhood development that were taken over by ENSANUT. The first area is healthcare coverage, whose indicator is the average number of medical consultations. The second area is early education, whose indicator is the percentage of infants from 0 to 35 months attending early childhood care and education programs, and the percentage of 36-59 months attending formal programs. The third area is the quality of the household context, whose indicators are the average number of activities carried out by children with at least one adult member of the household and the acquisition of children’s books in the household, among others. The fourth area is the method of discipline and care, whose indicators are psychological aggression, physical punishment, and non-violent methods of discipline. Vázquez Salas spoke in depth about the indices of child development and language development. The Early Childhood Development Index is the international instrument used in UNICEF’s MICS surveys for infants 36-59 months, consisting of a maternal report. The Language Development Index is a direct measure for children aged 19-59 months.
Longitudinal Survey of Colombia (ELCO)
Diana Carolina Peña Bolívar spoke about the background of the longitudinal survey of Colombia (known in Spanish as Encuesta Longitudinal de Colombia or ELCO), since originally the University of the Andes conducted the survey and the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) conducted the Longitudinal Survey of Social Protection (ELPS). When substantive thematic similarities were identified in both surveys, an agreement was signed to merge technical and administrative efforts for methodological and operational support between the Universidad de los Andes and DANE. ELCO monitors the same group of people over time to observe the evolution of living conditions in households and to identify short-, medium- and long-term phenomena. The objective of ELCO is to generate longitudinal statistical information that will allow the analysis of social and economic changes in households and individuals in Colombia, as an input for the design, monitoring and evaluation of public policies. Key aspects such as health, education, childcare and development were surveyed.
To conclude her presentation, Diana spoke about the management of the DANE, which is responsible for the production of official statistics in Colombia, as well as the coordination of the National Statistical System. Despite the challenges of designing and implementing ELCO, its results were ultimately successful.
Reflections by Dr. Paula Bedregal
Dr. Paula Bedregal stressed that early childhood development is a social and health determinant that impacts adult life. She discussed the differences between longitudinal and cross-sectional surveys. ELCO has a method of collecting data over time to observe biopsychosocial changes in its participants. Bedregal noted that longitudinal studies are more comprehensive than cross-sectional ones, since they point to causality between phenomena. However, they are more expensive and risk losing cases over time. ENSANUT is a cross-sectional survey that collects information on early childhood development, specifically health and nutrition. Therefore, it serves for trend analysis at the ecological level.
Bedregal talked about the 3 types of longitudinal surveys. First, prospective cohort studies that follow a population sample exposed to a condition or event to assess its impact. Second, retrospective cohort studies used to evaluate past events and observed impact on a group of people or population over time. Finally, the panel collects data from a representative sample of a population at different points in time. This last type of study is constantly used in the development of public policy, since several groups can be incorporated.
To conclude, Dr. Paula Bedregal highlighted two fundamental issues that need to be reconsidered by Latin American countries. First, how to achieve regional learning. What should be the common instrument for measuring early childhood development? In the case of ENSANUT, how to take up UNICEF’s global indicators. But what should be the minimum package that we can implement in all surveys in all countries? Lastly, how the Covid-19 pandemic taught several countries lessons on the importance of having updated information systems to respond effectively and immediately. It is crucial to maintain intelligent monitoring to improve emergency response.
This event is the first in a series of events on surveys and methodological exchange of child development measurement.