The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs recently approved a plan to bring about substantial strengthening and restructuring of Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS).
What is ICDS?
ICDS is a centrally sponsored flagship scheme for holistic development of children and was introduced in 1975. It is implemented through the concerned States/UTs with the funding by the Government in the ratio of 50:50 for supplementary nutrition (90:10 in NER) and 90:10 for other operational components between the Centre and the States.
ICDS today is the world’s largest community based outreach program for early child development, reaching out to over 9.65 crore beneficiaries of which 7.82 crore is children under 6 and 1.83 crore is lactating mothers. ICDS has been universalized largely post 2005-06 and finally in 2008-09 through 7076 approved projects and 14 lakh AWC’s across the country.
ICDS acts as a critical link between children and women and with the primary health care and elementary education systems. It also provides a protective environment for young children- including care and protection of the young and adolescent girl child.
The expansion of the scheme did not commensurate with the resources both human and financial as a result of which number of gaps/shortcomings crept, which were essential to be rectified. There was a need to address these gaps/shortcomings through restructuring and strengthening of the scheme.
These related to enhancing nutritional impact, reaching the child under three years in the family and community, changing caring and feeding behaviours in the family, reaching the most deprived community groups, responding flexibly to local needs for child care, responding to community demand for early learning, increasing ownership of Panchayati Raj Institutions and achieving an optimal balance between universalization and quality.
A major challenge was in implementation gaps that arises out of inadequate resource investment, inadequate funding, lack of convergence, lack of accountability of those managing and implementing the programme, especially, at the level of anganwadi centres and supervisory level, lack of community ownership and the general perception about ICDS being a “Feeding” program and not an Early childhood development program.
The issue was given highest priority by the Government at the level of Prime Minister’s Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, NAC as well as by the Planning Commission.
The strengthening and restructuring of the scheme consist of programmatic, management and institutional reforms which includes repositioning the AWC as a vibrant ECD centre, construction of AWC buildings, improved infrastructure, strengthening package of services, improvement in nutrition programme, management of severe and moderate underweight, strengthening training and capacity, decentralized planning, strengthening governance and MIS, using ICT, adequate human resource, putting the scheme in a Mission Mode, introducing APIPs and MoUs, revision of financial norms, etc.
Some Features of Restructured ICDS:
For the first time, construction of AWC buildings has been introduced, a provision for construction of 2 lakh AWCs @ Rs. 4.5 lakh per unit has been provided under the scheme during the 12th plan period.
Converting the AWCs into Crèche for the benefit of working mothers in the urban and the rural areas in the beginning 70,000 AWCs will be converted into AWC-cum-Creche during the XIIth Plan period.
Other changes include, revision of cost norms for SNP, focused attention on children in the 200-high burden districts where a provision for an additional AWW-cum-Counsellor has been made, organizing Sneha Shivirs, focused attention in the monthly VHND meetings, etc.
The Ultimate Aim:
The aim is to prevent and reduce young child under-nutrition (% underweight children 0-3 years) by 10 percentage points.
Enhance early development and learning outcomes in all children 0-6 years of age.
Improve care and nutrition of girls and women and reduce anaemia prevalence in young children, girls and women by one fifth by the end of 12th Five Year Plan..