Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

Strengthening ICDS and Empowering Anganwadi Workers


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ICDS Program, Components and related schemes and initiatives

Mains level: ICDS Program, Challenges and potential


Central Idea

  • India continues to grapple with high rates of stunting, wasting, and anaemia, posing significant public health risks for children and women. In order to combat these challenges, it is crucial for India to bolster its social sector schemes, particularly the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

What is ICDS?

  • ICDS is a flagship program implemented by the Government of India to address the nutritional and developmental needs of children under the age of six, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. The program is implemented through Anganwadi centers, which serve as grassroots-level delivery points for these services in rural and urban areas across the country


key elements of ICDS

  • Supplementary Nutrition: ICDS provides supplementary nutrition to children under the age of six, pregnant women, and lactating mothers. This includes the provision of hot cooked meals, take-home rations, and nutritional supplements to address malnutrition and promote healthy growth.
  • Immunization: The program ensures the timely immunization of children against preventable diseases. It facilitates immunization sessions and helps families understand the importance of vaccination.
  • Health Check-ups: Regular health check-ups are conducted for children and women to monitor their growth, detect any health issues, and provide appropriate medical interventions. This includes weight monitoring, growth assessment, and screening for common ailments.
  • Referral Services: ICDS facilitates the referral of children and women to appropriate healthcare facilities for specialized care and treatment when needed. It acts as a link between the community and the healthcare system, ensuring timely access to essential services.
  • Non-formal Pre-school Education: ICDS centers provide early childhood education to children aged 3-6 years. This includes age-appropriate learning activities, cognitive stimulation, and socialization opportunities to prepare children for formal schooling.
  • Nutrition and Health Education: The program emphasizes the importance of nutrition and health through education and awareness campaigns. Anganwadi workers conduct regular sessions to educate families about proper nutrition, hygiene practices, breastfeeding, and maternal and child health.
  • Community Mobilization: ICDS encourages community participation and engagement in the program. It seeks to involve families, community leaders, and local organizations in creating awareness, advocating for children’s rights, and supporting the effective implementation of ICDS services.
  • Anganwadi Workers: Anganwadi workers, who serve as the frontline functionaries of ICDS, play a critical role in delivering services at the grassroots level. They are responsible for conducting home visits, implementing program activities, counseling families, and maintaining records.

The Impact of ICDS

  • Cognitive Achievements: A study published in World Development revealed the positive impact of ICDS on cognitive achievements, particularly among girls and economically disadvantaged families. The program’s interventions, including nutrition, education, and health services, have shown to contribute to improved cognitive development in children.
  • Educational Attainment: Another study published in The University of Chicago Press Journals found that children who were exposed to ICDS during the first three years of life completed more grades of schooling compared to those who did not have access to the program. This indicates that early interventions provided by ICDS positively influence educational outcomes.
  • School Enrollment: According to a study published in the Natural Library of Medicine, adolescents aged 13-18, who were born in villages with proper ICDS implementation, showed a 7.8% increased likelihood of school enrollment. This suggests that ICDS plays a role in promoting access to education and increasing enrollment rates.
  • Reduction in Malnutrition: The children who remained enrolled in ICDS exhibited reduced rates of child stunting and severe malnutrition. By providing supplementary nutrition and monitoring the growth of children, ICDS contributes to improving nutritional outcomes and addressing malnutrition issues

Why there is need to reassess existing strategies?

  • Addressing Persistent Issues: The ICDS program still faces challenges in improving the nutritional and health outcomes for children aged 0-6 years. Despite four decades of efforts, there is a pressing need to reevaluate strategies to effectively tackle these persistent issues.
  • Empowering Anganwadi Workers: Empowering Anganwadi workers, who are at the forefront of implementing the ICDS program, is crucial. These workers play a vital role in advancing child nutrition, health, and education in their communities. However, they often face challenges due to high workload and limited resources.
  • Variation in Implementation: The significant variation in the implementation of ICDS across different regions and the level of skills of Anganwadi workers. This calls for further investments in training programs to ensure standardized and high-quality service delivery.
  • Infrastructural Improvements: The ICDS program also faces infrastructural challenges, such as the lack of functional sanitation facilities, access to potable water, and adequate physical infrastructure in many Anganwadi centers. Addressing these infrastructural gaps is crucial for improving service delivery and overall program effectiveness.


Advantages of Additional Workers to the ICDS Program

  • Improved Health and Educational Outcomes: Adding an extra Anganwadi worker to each center can lead to better health and educational outcomes for children. A randomized controlled trial conducted in Tamil Nadu demonstrated that increasing staff levels within the ICDS framework resulted in improved math and language test scores among enrolled children. The additional worker effectively doubled the net preschool instructional time, leading to significant positive effects.
  • Reduced Rates of Stunting and Severe Malnutrition: The same trial in Tamil Nadu also showed that children who remained enrolled in the program exhibited reduced rates of child stunting and severe malnutrition. The presence of additional workers can contribute to enhanced nutritional support and monitoring, leading to improved child health outcomes.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Implementing the model of adding an additional Anganwadi worker to each center nationwide is relatively cost-effective compared to the potential benefits it offers. The estimated long-term benefits, based on expected improvements in lifetime earnings, would be around 13 to 21 times the expenses.
  • Specialization of Roles: With an additional worker, the responsibilities can be divided to allow existing workers to focus more on child health and nutrition. The new Anganwadi worker can be assigned the specific responsibility of concentrating on preschool and early childhood education. This specialization allows for better utilization of resources and expertise, resulting in improved outcomes in both health and education domains.
  • Job Opportunities and Women Empowerment: Adding an extra Anganwadi worker to each center creates job opportunities, particularly for women, across the country. This initiative would lead to the creation of 1.3 million new jobs for women, contributing to economic empowerment and gender equality.

Implementation Challenges Within the ICDS Program

  • Variation in Implementation: There is significant variation in the implementation of the ICDS program across different regions of India. This variation can be attributed to factors such as resource allocation, infrastructure availability, and capacity of Anganwadi workers. Addressing this variation and ensuring standardized implementation across all regions is crucial for the program’s effectiveness.
  • Skill Levels of Anganwadi Workers: There is a variation in the skill levels of Anganwadi workers. To ensure consistent and high-quality service delivery, it is necessary to invest in training programs that enhance the skills and knowledge of these workers.
  • Infrastructural Challenges: Many Anganwadi centers face infrastructural challenges, such as a lack of functional sanitation facilities, inadequate access to potable water, and insufficient physical infrastructure. These infrastructural gaps hinder the effective delivery of ICDS services.
  • Decentralized Implementation: The ICDS program operates under a decentralized approach, with state governments overseeing the execution, administration, management, and monitoring of the program. While decentralization promotes tailored implementation, it also poses challenges in terms of coordination, resource allocation, and maintaining consistent standards across different states and regions.

Way Ahead

  • Empowerment of Anganwadi Workers: Providing comprehensive support and resources to Anganwadi workers is crucial. This includes enhancing their training programs, improving their skills and knowledge related to child nutrition, health, and early childhood education. Regular capacity-building programs should be conducted to keep them updated with the latest research and best practices.
  • Increase Staffing Levels: Adding an additional Anganwadi worker to each existing center can alleviate the workload and ensure more focused attention on preschool and early childhood education. This step would enable existing workers to dedicate more time to child health and nutrition, leading to improved outcomes.
  • Improve Infrastructure: Investments should be made to improve the infrastructure of Anganwadi centers. This includes providing functional sanitation facilities, access to clean drinking water, and adequate buildings. Upgrading the infrastructure will create a conducive environment for delivering quality services and ensure the safety and well-being of children.
  • Strengthen Monitoring and Evaluation: Robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be established to assess the progress, impact, and effectiveness of the ICDS program. Regular data collection, analysis, and feedback loops will help identify gaps and inform evidence-based decision-making for program improvement.
  • Collaborative Approach: Collaboration between the central and state governments, along with active involvement of local communities, is essential. Effective coordination and communication channels should be established to ensure seamless implementation and integration of the ICDS program at all levels.
  • Sustainable Funding: Adequate and sustained funding should be allocated to the ICDS program. The government should prioritize investments in child nutrition and early childhood development as a long-term strategy for the nation’s well-being. Exploring partnerships with non-governmental organizations and private sector entities can also help mobilize additional resources.
  • Community Engagement and Awareness: Creating awareness among communities about the importance of child nutrition, health, and education is crucial. Community mobilization efforts, including campaigns, workshops, and interactive sessions, should be conducted to engage families and community members in the ICDS program. Promoting behavior change and encouraging active participation will contribute to its success.
  • Regular Policy Review: Periodic review and assessment of the ICDS program’s policies and strategies are essential to adapt to changing needs and emerging evidence. Regular policy reviews should be conducted to incorporate best practices, address implementation challenges, and align the program with evolving national and international standards


  • To unlock the full potential of ICDS and address persistent issues related to child malnutrition, it is crucial to revisit and re-evaluate its strategies and implementation. Empowering Anganwadi workers through additional staffing, improved training, and better infrastructure is a vital first step. By enhancing the ICDS program, India can make significant progress in improving child nutrition, health, and educational outcomes.

Also read:

Early Childhood Care and Education through Anganwadis


Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch