In March 2020, when COVID19 began to sweep across Europe, services provided to children, families and communities were heavily impacted. Physical distancing has exacerbated many issues present in communities across the globe, from the lack of access to technology for many families to violence within homes.
The measures that were taken across Europe, and elsewhere, are impacting all aspects of life. TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs are no exception, but their quick mobilization and innovative practices have meant that staff members are still reaching out and engaging with the community even without the physical space the Play Hubs normally are housed in.
TOY for Inclusion Play Hubs, which operate in 8 countries to provide inclusive spaces for young children and their families, have continued to support them through flexible solutions. The Local Action Teams tasked with operating the 15 Play Hubs under this project have sprung into action to adjust activities to address community challenges, often ways formal services haven’t been able to. The work of these teams has continued and, in many cases, intensified.
Due to their unique and well-established position within communities, they are a trusted resource and support system for families that are facing any number of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic shines a light on the essential elements of the TOY for Inclusion project – intersectoral work as a way to address complex issues, innovative and flexible solutions tailored to communities and the development of inclusive and easy to reach services.
Each country has developed a tailored response under extremely challenging circumstances. In the coming weeks, TOY partners will share insights into their response efforts. Here, we share the response from Latvia.
Creating joyful moments in uncertain times
TOY for Inclusion partner in Latvia, Centre for Education Initiatives, shares that the current restrictions bring challenges for the Play Hubs. Providing distance learning for children is difficult, especially for vulnerable families. The government has shown awareness of the technical difficulties and has attempted to make sure that each household has Internet access and equipment such as computers, tablets or mobile phones.
However, overcoming this obstacle proves difficult in practice.
Still, the coordinators are maintaining a playful atmosphere even through the challenges by organizing online activities like puzzles, games and story time. These sessions spark moments of joy for children and provide short periods of relaxation for parents.
Another challenge is the support children need in the learning process, which is especially needed for younger school-aged children. Parents are not always able to provide this support and assistance to children. The Play Hub staff is providing one-to-one telephone counseling to help parents support their children. An opportunity that is being taken by many Roma families in the Play Hub’s community.
Play Hub coordinators have also committed to helping families facing additional challenges by contacting municipal services when needed.