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Estimating Costs

The costs of an Early Child Development (ECD) program will affect its feasibility and desirability. Costs of delivering ECD services are especially important to consider for developing countries. Poorer countries tend to have higher numbers of young children, making the percentage of the population to be served by ECD programs highest where the ability to pay for services is lowest. The challenge consists of developing low-cost models that are highly effective in nurturing child development.

ECD programs typically consist of different cost components. The amount per type of cost is dependent on the characteristics of the program. Several factors have been identified that are major determinants of costs. Some suggestions are given on how to keeping program costs down.

Cost components of typical ECD programs

In general, expenses for early child development programs can be divided into several cost components that should be taken into account when preparing the project and the project budget. These components can be distinguished in investment (or start-up) costs and operating (recurrent) costs. Operating costs will continue over time as long as the project is operational. Although investment costs are often financed by outside funding, operating costs are expected to be covered by other sources over time, such as the project itself, the community, parents, the government or the private sector.

If the program consists of home-based care, costs of the child care centers will be replaced by expenses for mother’s time and efforts, training for the mother, educational materials and supplies for the children, toys, food or nutritional supplements, home improvement.

If the program contains a micro-enterprise component, the investment costs will be increased with loans to mothers. For example in the case of mothers who will set up a day care center, the loans might finance upgrading of their homes.

Determinants of program costs

Due to the wide variations in program approaches, it makes little sense to give a clear-cut model of how much ECD programs should cost. However, several aspects of ECD programs can have an important influence on the costs of the project. A choice regarding these factors is usually made at project design. Their impact on investment and operating costs should be considered in relation to the available resources and the expected benefits they provide. Projects differ in the following main aspects with different effects on costs:

The age at which children start the program is a major determinant of costs: The younger children are when they enter an ECD program, the longer they will be served in general. Moreover, due to higher staff-child ratios for infants and toddlers, center-based child care for children 0-3 may be especially costly. The relative cost-advantage of home visiting over home-based child care over center-based child care can be considerably high for the youngest children.

Keeping Program Costs Down

Some studies have estimated center-based programs to cost up to five times as much as preschool programs in private homes, even where minimal home improvement costs are reimbursed.

Equipment (weight scales, toys, informal materials for play, audiovisual and musical equipment):
While equipment needs will vary from program to program, considerable savings can be realized when parents learn how to adapt ordinary objects and to make educational toys from materials found in the children's natural environment.

Food Supplies:
Food can be the most costly input in an early child development program and can account for up to 40 percent of program costs. Food is often provided by the government through the ministry of agriculture or by international donors such as the World Food Program. While costs can be cut by involving the community in food provision, it is generally difficult to ensure timely delivery and a sustainable supply of food supplements. Cooperative food operations therefore require close supervision.

Staff (training and salaries):
Those who care for very young children can be: trained or untrained teachers or day care workers, mothers, or other women from the community. Some caregivers are paid salaries; some are considered volunteers and receive small honorariums. Volunteers, however, cannot be held to as high standards as employees, and many volunteers eventually demand salaries when they get dissatisfied with their unpaid status.

Government can contain costs by targeting services narrowly to the most needy children. Some governments have instituted cost-sharing measures. Others have used "volunteer" teachers instead of trained caregivers and encouraged home-based rather than center-based care. The actual cost reduction achieved does not always come up to expectations however. And too much emphasis on cost reduction can compromised quality.

The Consultative Group on ECCD suggests the following ways to keep costs low:

  • Focus services in limited, disadvantaged populations
  • Use trained community workers or family members as caregivers and teachers
  • Use all available resources (people of all ages, facilities available part-time, recycled materials)
  • Use existing infrastructure by incorporating ECCD elements into ongoing health, nutrition, regional development, and adult education programs.
  • Use mass media and all other means of communication.


  • Evans, J.L., R.G. Myers & E.M. Illfeld. 2000. “Early Childhood Counts: A Programming Guide on Early Childhood Care for Development”. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.
  • Barnett, W.S. (1996). “Costs and Financing of Early Childhood Development Programs”. Paper presented at Early Child Development: Investing in the Future Conference, April 8-9, 1996, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Barnett, W.S. (1997). “Costs and Financing of Early Child Development Programs”. In: Mary E. Young (ed.), Early Child Development: Investing in our Children’s Future. Excerpta Medica International Congress Series 1137. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science B.V.
  • Consultative Group on ECCD Secretariat. No date. "The Cost and Affordability of Early Childhood Care and Development Programs.
  • Evans, J.L., R.G. Myers & E.M. Illfeld. 2000. Early Childhood Counts: A Programming Guide on Early Childhood Care for Development. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
  • Myers, Robert. 1995. The Twelve Who Survive: Strengthening Programs of Early Childhood Development in the Third World. 2d ed. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.
  • Wilson, Sandra.1995. "ECD Programs: Lessons from Developing Countries." Washington, DC: The World Bank, Human Development Department.
  • Young, Mary. 1996. Early Child Development: Investing in the Future. Washington, DC: The World Bank.