Principal Investigator: Michael Wessells. Lead Organisation: Columbia University
To help strengthen the evidence base on child protection, this ethically approved research will test the effectiveness of community-designed interventions for linking community child protection mechanisms with government-led health and social welfare aspects of the national child protection system. In each of Moyamba and Bombali Districts, comparisons will be made over two years between two similar, rural chiefdoms, one of which is an intervention condition and the other a comparison condition.
The community-driven intervention includes work by the communities, government actors, and NGOs on preventing teenage pregnancy through a mixture of reproductive health education, family planning, and life skills. A contextually relevant survey instrument will be applied twice at intervals separated by 11 months to random samples of teenage girls and boys (13-19 years) in order to measure changes in risk and well-being outcomes for children. These outcomes were derived from a mixture of local views (in previous stages of the study) and those of international child rights standards.
Through its inter-agency networks, the research will encourage the use of population-based outcomes measures to track the effectiveness of the national child protection system and inform strategies for aligning and linking community mechanisms with government aspects of the child protection system.
The proposed research results could have significant impact in Sierra Leone and across the global child protection sector therefore the beneficiaries of the research will be at national and global level. In Sierra Leone, the beneficiaries will be:
- Children and adult community members who are part of, or affected by child protection issues, including children affected by HIV and those living without appropriate care. The research findings and the participatory process of the programmatic intervention, will improve community level practice to prevent and respond to child protection violations. The ethnographic phase of the research has already demonstated the impact the research can have. In the process of feeding back the ethnographic findings to communities, and in response to a key finding about high levels of teengage pregnancy and associated risks, one of the research site communities decided to pass a new by-law to ensure that all teengage pregnancies which occur as a result of sexual abuse are reported and dealt with through the proper channels. It is expected that the research will also contribute to increased awareness of child protection issues and potentially decrease stigma associated with such issues in communities.
- Chiefs and decision makers in non-formal components of the child protection system. In Sierra Leone, government services for child protection do not extend operationally into rural areas therefore Chiefs and other community leaders are a critically important group to engage in the research.
- Local government staff in the research sites including social workers, police, family support unit staff, health workers and teachers. The research will provide evidence and generate information about how such workers can reach out and engage communities to better protect children.
- The government of Sierra Leone, in particular policy makers responsible for social welfare and resource allocation for child protection. The Ministry for Social Welfare, which is the primary government department responsible for child protection, is the least funded government department. Policy-makers in this Ministry desperately require robust evidence of the cost-effectiveness of protection interventions to advocate for increased resource allocation from the national budget. The results of the ethnographic phase were received with keen interest by the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, signalling the future impact the research can have on government policy.
- UNICEF and non-governmental organisations in Sierra Leone which are supporting protection programmes for the most vulnerable children, in particular Save the Children, World Vision, Plan International, War Child Holland, Defence for Children International and the International Rescue Committee. These organisations require robust evidence to help them support more effective interventions, including improving the effectiveness of, and scaling-up, current interventions.
At global level the beneficiaries will be:
- Governments in the many other countries and regions which are implementing community-based child protection, who require examples of what works in strengthening and measuring the effectiveness of national child protection systems.
- Donors for child protection programmes such as DFID, USAID, UNICEF and the European Commission which require evidence of what works and examples of indicators to measure child protection outcomes.
- UN Agencies and International NGOs (including those listed above) who are supporting large child protection programmes globally. It is expected that in other countries agencies will use similar outcome measures and processes to strengthen the evidence base, building on this model of good practice.
- Inter-agency technical working groups in the global child protection community such as the Child Protection Working Group who design standards and guidance for the sector.