Exploring factors that could potentially have affected the first thousand days of absent learners in the Foundation Phase
The first thousand days in the life of a child, that is from conception to the age of two, is considered the most critical development phase because children’s physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development during this time can have lifelong consequences for their health and well-being. Literature explains the rapid development of the brain structure which forms more than one million neural connections per second during this time, thus shaping the building blocks for the child’s future. The brain structure formed during pregnancy and the first two years of the child’s life can either result in a weak or strong foundation for the child’s future health, behaviour and learning. Research has confirmed that children need nurturing care during the first thousand days to ensure that they develop favourably and reach their full potential. This care includes good health, proper nutrition, responsive care, safety, security and early learning. Recognising the importance of the first thousand days of a child’s life, the Western Cape Government launched its First 1000 Days initiative called ‘Right start, Bright future’ in 2016. This initiative, aimed at providing services during the first thousand days to help ensure that children reach their full potential, has three key areas that could potentially impact the first thousand days of a child’s life: (1) health and nutrition, (2) love and attention, and (3) play and stimulation. These key areas focus on factors such as nutritional deficiency, the physical and mental health of the mother and child, the mother’s substance use/abuse during pregnancy, support to mother and child, nurturing care, attachment, stimulation and learning. The aim of this study was to qualitatively explore and describe factors that could potentially have affected the first thousand days of absent learners during the Foundation Phase within the Paarl East area in the Western Cape. The rationale for focusing specifically on ‘absent learners’ was motivated by the researcher’s work context where she is employed by a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) rendering services to absent learners and their families. A qualitative approach and qualitative descriptive design were utilised in this study. Data collection consisted of semi-structured interviews with 18 biological mothers, using an interview schedule and timeline tool. The interview schedule was developed with 12 questions relating to the three key areas of the Western Cape Government’s First 1000 Days initiative. These interviews were voice recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic data analysis. This research revealed the following six themes: (1) the health of the mother during the first thousand days of the child’s life, (2) the health of the child during the first thousand days of life, (3) the availability of support to the mother and the child during the first thousand days of the child’s life, (4) the circumstances of the mother and the child during the first thousand days of the child’s life, (5) the attachment and relationship between the mother and the child during the first thousand days of the child’s life, and (6) the development and care of the child during the first thousand days of life. The themes, sub-themes and categories that emerged in this study relate to the various factors that could potentially have affected the first thousand days of absent learners in the Foundation Phase. Based on the data collected, the researcher concluded that a wide range of factors are playing a role during the first thousand days of a child’s life, thus support and nurturing care for both the mother and the child are crucial. Due to the enormous amount of support needed, the researcher recommended stronger collaboration and multi-sector partnerships between government departments, NPOs, professionals, the private sector and people who are passionate about children in order to help ensure that all South African children reach their full potential.
- Health Sciences