Strengthening Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)

India's Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is one of the world's largest programmes aimed at childhood development and care. Over the past few years, the Tata Trusts have partnered with several states to drive the programme at the grassroots.

The mission is to strengthen the Government of India's ICDS programme and accelerate child development in the partner states.

The Trusts’ approach is focused on strengthening all the constituents of the system.

Anganwadi centres and their workers: On the ground, the Tata Trusts work closely with Anganwadi centres to overhaul them. These 'courtyard shelters' were started in 1975 when the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme was launched in India. Anganwadis play a lead role in providing healthcare services and helping combat malnutrition in lakhs of villages across India.

Anganwadi workers are responsible for driving the ICDS programme. The Trusts conduct special training programmes for this all-woman army to empower them and make them more effective.

The community: Every state has a different set of challenges at the community level. Different beliefs, behaviours, and traditions make it difficult for development programmes to be effectively implemented. There is a strong need at the grassroots to engage with the community. Constant engagement helps to change community behaviour and makes people more receptive to development programmes like ICDS.

The Tata Trusts work closely with the communities in all partner states to create awareness, improve perceptions and increase programme reception.

Programme governance: Implementing programmes like ICDS in a country like India is nothing short of a challenge. There are close to 6.5 lakh villages and more than double the number of Anganwadi centres. Several layers of people and processes lie between a policy, its implementation, and impact.

Technology (an ICT-based software) and data at the core of the Tata Trusts’ strategy to help make data-driven decisions and improve nutrition governance.

The state government: For any policy to yield results, state governments must create a system that is transparent and responsible. The Trusts team works closely with all partner state governments to ensure transparency and accountability.

That, in short, is the standard approach for strengthening ICDS in all partner states. Minor changes are made to suit the specific needs of the state.

The Trusts’ joint effort with state governments is beginning to show positive results. Here is a glimpse of the work and the impact in the states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

Anaemia and underweight prevalence drop in Palghar, Maharashtra

In the year 2017, the Tata Trusts embarked on a joint initiative with the Government of Maharashtra. The Trusts followed the multi-pronged approach to strengthen the overall system.

So far, 3,183 Anganwadi centres have been provided with need-based equipment and numerous Anganwadi workers have been trained and empowered. 100 Anganwadi centres in Palghar are now model centres.

Less than three years after its launch, the initiative is creating a positive impact. A series of base-line and mid-line surveys assessing the impact of the interventions, show encouraging results.

Anaemia levels are significantly low in girl children by 11%. Underweight prevalence is down by 9%, especially among children under 10 years of age. Doctors in Palghar confirm that the number of visits by children to health centres has drastically reduced.

Officials from The Maharashtra state government also see a higher degree of accountability and transparency in the system. The programme is now helping the government save INR 12 Crores, annually.

More than 9,700 children with severe acute malnutrition successfully treated in malnutrition in Rajasthan

The Trusts’ ongoing programme in Rajasthan is called 'Making It Happen'. It is spread across 5 districts. The name indicates the Tata Trusts’ commitment to tackling malnutrition despite the hurdles the ICDS project has historically experienced in the state.

Before starting out on the implementation journey, the Trusts carried out a formative research study in the state. The idea was to understand two important facts. One, the perception of ICDS among key stakeholders and two, the diet diversity among pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children. The findings of the study added on to the Trusts’ standard approach to derive the strategy for Rajasthan.

One of the findings was that the Anganwadis in some of the districts were not in a good shape. The food they served was low on taste and nutrition. The environment was unhygienic. Such districts were doing poorly on nutrition.

It became imperative to overhaul the Anganwadis, train the Anganwadi workers and empower them.

So far, 204 Anganwadis have been refurbished, Anganwadi workers have been trained and a motivating work environment has been created for them. Children now get nutritious food that’s also tasty. Additionally, the Trusts have ensured that the atmosphere is healthy and cheerful for mothers and children.

In Rajasthan, the focus has also been stronger to engage the community to 'make it happen'. The Trusts team mobilises Panchayats and Women Self-Help Groups in the state. That, in turn, helps to spread awareness about the POSHAN Abhiyan and the importance of quality ICDS services for the community.

The Tata Trusts’ aim is to prevent malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of life. According to the UNICEF, this 'window of opportunity' is a critical phase of life and early childhood development. The first 1,000 days are critical for mother and newborn babies. If they receive adequate food during this period, stunted growth in children under five years can be reduced by 40 %. It is the time when the basis of good health, growth and development are established in a child.

To improve the diet diversity among pregnant and lactating mothers, the Tata Trusts help to carry out several agricultural initiatives , too . Important among them are grain bio-fortification initiatives. The Trusts constantly run campaigns for the community to demonstrate the important link between agriculture and nutrition.

The Tata Trusts’ multi-pronged approach is showing positive results in the state. 47 Blocks in Rajasthan have been able to address the issues of severe acute malnutrition. More than 9,700 children have been treated.

Over 3 lakh women and children impacted in Andhra Pradesh

The programme in Andhra Pradesh has a lot in common with the one in Rajasthan. It retains its name 'Making it happen' and operates in three districts - Krishna, Guntur and Nellore. In Andhra Pradesh too, the Trusts have focused on refurbishing 250 Anganwadi centres and empowered the workers there.

The Tata Trusts also ensure the availability of fortified milk, salt and rice, rich in vitamins A and D in all three districts. Over the past few years, implementation of the programme has positively impacted 3,00,000 women and children in Andhra Pradesh.

So, what is that one thing that can tackle child malnutrition in India?

A multi-level approach.

"Tackling malnutrition in India has to work at multiple levels," is the core belief at the Tata Trusts. All constituents of the system are necessary to fight malnutrition, effectively.

Training, supply chain management, monitoring and data analysis have been the pillars of implementation. While, close community engagement has helped amend nutritional and healthcare behaviour at the individual, family and community levels. The overall impact is that there is an immense improvement in the quality and coverage of the ICDS scheme in the Trusts’ partner states. This demonstrates the effectiveness of a holistic approach in fighting malnutrition in India.

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