The early experiences of very young children build their brain architecture.
Babies develop strong neural connections and show improved attachment when their carers form a strong bond with them through responsive caregiving techniques. This cognitive, emotional and behavioural foundation is critical for preparing children for school and life.
In order to meet the needs of a young child, mothers and other caregivers need to feel supported and empowered. For many new mothers with few resources, poor understanding of early childhood development, multiple stressors and a lack of support make it extremely difficult for them to provide their child with the kind of care that builds healthy brains.
These moms need a reliable and sympathetic source of early childhood development information and advice, so that they can play an active and empowered role in their children’s care.
ChildConnect is an inventive way of helping mothers understand the vital role they play in their child’s early development. This mass mobile messaging platform creates awareness of the child’s basic needs, and encourages mothers to build a caring, secure relationship with their child based on improved interactions and home language communication.
The programme delivers regular SMS messages that acknowledge the often-challenging conditions of South African mothers by providing informational and motivational support and practical tips for the optimal care and development of their young children.
Content is stage-based and tailored for the age of the user’s child, with an initial focus on children aged 12-24 months. A steady stream of messages means that the content is reinforced through repetition and caregivers can opt in for additional bursts of information on selected topics.
The project builds on MomConnect, a national Department of Health mobile messaging platform currently reaching an estimated 1 million pregnant women and mothers of infants in SA.
Mobile messaging systems are an affordable and convenient way of reaching out to parents in under-resourced communities. They have been shown to be effective in improving health seeking behavior and in household health and nutrition practices. This project will contribute to the understanding of if and how mobile messaging can strengthen the role of caregivers in the early stimulation of their child.
By on-boarding moms as a routine part of the public antenatal service, the MomConnect platform has demonstrated its potential to scale rapidly. Developing ChildConnect as an extension of MomConnect ensures an in-built route to scale. The partnership with the National Department of Health is therefore critical to the success of this innovation. Content and technology specifications are being designed with this partnership in mind.
Monthly team sprints and a flexible design allow for fast learning cycles and responsive iterations within the proof of concept period. Constant development and testing of content is essential to establish the best possible ways of connecting with parents and caregivers in the interests of the child.
The key challenge facing this, and other mobile interventions that aim to scale in poor communities, is the prohibitive cost of data. We continue to explore avenues for addressing this.
The project team
The Praekelt.org’s mission is to use open source technologies to deliver essential information and inclusive services to millions of people around the world, especially in Africa.
Kelello, in partnership with the Centre for Education Practice Research (CEPR) at the University of Johannesburg have been contracted to assist with content design and as the evaluation research partner.