Sharjah Child Friendly Office widens project for parents

The Sharjah Child Friendly Office (SCFO) has announcedthe upgrading of its Sharjah Baby Friendly Project to the Sharjah Baby and Family Friendly (SBFF) Project, with a renewed focus to include parents, families, and other caregivers within its ambit in recognition of the important role they play in the promotion, protection and support of childhood development. Overtheyears,theSharjahBabyFriendlyProject, which sought to encourage and support a culture of breastfeeding in the emirate, has succeeded in implementingfourcommunity-centred initiativesand managed to increase the exclusive breastfeeding rate (EBR) in Sharjah from the then baseline of 18 per cent in 2012 to at least 60 per cent by 2019, exceeding the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) 2025 global target of 50 per cent. The project was instrumental in Sharjah being named the world’s first ‘Baby FriendlyCity’ in 2015 by WHO and Unicef. The newly announced project will seek to address issues including health, cognitive and emotional development and nutrition, including bringing fathers within the ambit of the project to increase its scope and impact. It will also tackle critical issues that affect child wellbeing, including the parent-child relationship, responsive and nurturing parenting, stimulating and safe home environment, prevention of child abuse and/neglect, and early detection of risk or vulnerability. Studies indicate that an increasing number of children, including in high-income countries, begin life at a disadvantage because they do not receive the nurturing care necessary for their physical and psychological development, while research findings in neuroscience and developmental psychology point to the risks of adverse childhood experiences and the buffering effects of positive parenting. Highlighting the objective of the decision to upgrade the project, Dr Hessa Al Ghazal, Executive Director of SCFO, said “Acting on the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness and Chairperson of the Supreme Council For Family Affairs, to create a nurturing environment for families to thrive, SCFO has decided to scale up the project to strategically include and empower parents, families, and other caregivers to aid in promoting, protecting and supporting childhood development. In keeping with this, the SBFF project will be expanded to include effective intervention, with governancestructurestoensurethatchildren’s holistic needs are addressed appropriately. “Child development theories indicate that children needthreefundamental support mechanisms in order to thrive as adults appropriate nutrition; stableand responsive relationships with caregivers; and a safe, nurturing environment. Lack of one or more of these supports can adversely affect a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, resulting in the loss of opportunities that are every child’s birthright,” she added. ThefirstphaseofupscalingcurrentSBFinitiatives to become Baby and Family Friendly will involve a rapid assessment of all accredited or registered organisations, which will be followed by updated standardstoreflectsustainability,innovation,inclusion and a familyfriendly culture in health facilities, workplaces,nurseriesandpublicspaces.Theupgraded initiatives will continue working towards sustaining and improving rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation for two years. A new accreditation scheme will be announced for organisations that meet the project’s new requirements. SBFF will also work in alignment with thetargets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and will advocate for increased parental leave and family-friendly policies to support parents in giving children the strongest start in life. SBFF will seek to build capacity through existing health, nutrition, education, social and child protection services. It will also work to strengthen multisectoral coordination in support of childhood development and facilitatefamilyand community engagement. SCFO, which led Sharjah’s Child Friendly City project, and its recognition byUnicefto being named a Child Friendly City in 2018 by Unicef, aimsto build on its success in providing advanced infrastructure for childhood services by upscaling and adopting a more holistic approach towards the protection and promotion of the rights of all infants, children and young adults living in the emirate.

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