Despite progress in the last decade, child poverty remains widespread. Almost 250 million children aged 0-5 in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential. Poverty reduction is vital for improving children’s chances in life, both now and into the future.
A new wave of comprehensive anti-poverty programmes – so-called graduation programmes – have become increasingly popular in the last decade. They were first implemented in Bangladesh and can now be found in more than 43 countries (pdf) across the globe. Graduation programmes are based on the idea that people living in poverty require a big push to move out of poverty in a sustainable manner. The combination of regular cash transfers, large asset transfer or investment support, access to savings and credit, training and tailored coaching aims to set people on an upwards trajectory and to change their lives for the better.
Transferring the positive impact to children
Evaluations from programmes in different countries indicate (pdf) that programme participation leads to improved livelihoods with less poverty, greater consumption and more assets. Research from Bangladesh suggests that some of these impacts are maintained long after the programme has come to an end. In light of these positive experiences, graduation programmes clearly hold potential for improving children’s lives. Improved livelihoods and more household income can help to meet children’s basic needs and support caregivers in raising their children.
Research on cash transfer programmes provides evidence for the many positive effects on children as a result of improved economic conditions at the household level, including food security, education and health. Yet cash transfers alone are not a magic bullet, and complementary interventions that improve caregiving practices and access to services are vital. In addition, graduation programmes may also put children at risk of receiving lower quality care. Investments in economic activities require time and resources, some of which may be diverted away from children in pursuit of improved livelihoods.
Sharing knowledge across research and policy
Last week, a group of 30 policymakers, donors, and researchers joined a research and policy event at the British Academy in London to discuss how graduation programmes can be made to work for children. The event was organised by the Centre for Social Protection at IDS, with presentations from the Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) at the World Bank, London School of Economics, Save the Children and IDS.
An overview of existing graduation programmes by Aude de Montesquiou from PEI highlighted that 44 programmes include some focus on children, mostly covering issues of nutrition, health and schooling. This is corroborated by emerging findings that I presented based on a forthcoming review of the impact of graduation programmes on early childhood development. Out of 27 studies, 15 studies considered effects on nutrition, 14 studies looked at schooling and seven studies considered effects in the area of health. No studies considered potential impacts on early learning or responsive caregiving, indicating that large knowledge gaps exist.
New research begins to fill these knowledge gaps.
Building on longitudinal data from Bangladesh’ Targeting the Ultra Poor programme, Oriana Bandiera from LSE investigates the programmes’ ability to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Emerging findings suggest that certain positive livelihood effects are maintained for children with adolescent boys replacing casual labour with work on own land (that is acquired through the programme) and skilled work.
Qualitative research from our Pathways to Stronger Futures in Haiti project highlights the tension between engaging in income-generating activities and providing care for young children. The programme specifically targets women, as they are often among the poorest. But engagement in work activities outside the home, such as trading at the market, in conjunction with relatively small support networks and gendered roles and responsibilities regarding childcare means that women are often forced to choose between pursuing economic opportunities and providing quality care to their children. Notions of trust and the importance of strong relationships emerged as core to programme success.
Davina Jeffery and colleagues from Save the Children UK shifted the discussion towards more practical considerations. A recently published guidance note on child-sensitive graduation asks implementers to consider the extent to which programme components can be improved to benefit children. Interactive discussions about three components, namely consumption support, financial inclusion and social and behaviour change communication generated new ideas for how children’s interests might feature more centrally in graduation programmes.
Jess Atkinson from the UK Department for International Development and Chris Pain from Concern Worldwide offered reflections on next steps. Jess highlighted the need for an interdisciplinary focus as we are expanding our understanding of how graduation programmes affect children’s lives, and for thinking further about whether and how programmes can contribute to building trust and about the interaction between engaging in work and going to school for children. Chris emphasised the need for more longitudinal research for truly understanding the long-term impact on children, and for thinking carefully about the diversity of impacts depending on context and intra-household allocation.
Clearly, there was an appetite in the room to investigate this further. Many participants were in agreement that there is very limited research on the impact of graduation programmes on children, and we should invest time and money on changing this. In turn, there was a real feeling that in any of the anti-poverty work we do, it must seek to understand and mitigate any negative impacts on children. Everything we do must be child-sensitive.