Strengths and challenges faced by parents of young children in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia


Firelight is working with 18 grassroots organizations in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia to strengthen their programs in early childhood development and their organizational management. Parents and other primary caregivers, and the relationships they establish with their children, are fundamental to children’s lifelong development and well-being. Through Firelight’s Community-Based Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiative, our partners in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia are engaging in a range of strategies to support, empower, and build the capacities of parents and primary caregivers to provide healthy, nurturing, and supportive relationships and environments for their young children.

Recently, Firelight worked with our Lead Partners to survey parents and primary caregivers of young children to get a picture of the strengths and challenges they face in their communities. By better understanding the experiences and perspectives of parents, we are in a better position to develop programs and services that build on their strengths and respond effectively to their needs.

With our Lead Partners, we developed and administered the Firelight Parent/Caregiver Survey to gather data on parent/caregiver outcomes in communities served by our partners. The survey covered five key areas: (1) Parents’ ability to meet child’s basic needs, (2) Parents’ understanding of child’s learning and development, (3) Parents’ ability to help child develop and learn, (4) Parents’ access to support systems, and (5) Families’ access to community supports and services. Between August and October 2015, our Lead Partners surveyed 262 parents – 99 from Malawi, 84 from Tanzania, and 79 from Zambia.

The chart below presents average scores for each section of the survey by country:

Parent Survey Chart










Key findings:

  • In Tanzania and Zambia, a key area of challenge for parents was around meeting their child’s basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, safety, and health care. While the ratings from Malawi were slightly higher, they still had room for improvement.
  • Overall, in all three countries, parents seemed most confident in their ability to help their children develop and learn. This was accompanied by a relative confidence with their understanding of children’s learning and development, especially in Malawi and Tanzania.
  • In all three countries, parents seemed to have limited access to support systems. Parents, especially in Tanzania and Zambia, also experienced challenges in accessing community supports and services.

The findings from the Firelight Parent/Caregiver Survey indicate that parents in the three countries seem relatively comfortable in their ability to help their child learn and develop. However, they face considerable challenges in meeting their children’s and families’ basic needs, and in accessing social support systems. Our partners, rooted in their communities, are in a critical position to reach these parents and:

  • enhance their capacities to provide for their families,
  • facilitate the development of social support systems among parents and families,
  • further build parents’ understanding of their child’s learning and development, and
  • engage in advocacy and create linkages so that parents and families can access the local supports and services they need for their families’ health, education, and wellbeing.