Children in Sub-Saharan Africa face stark challenges with respect to care and wellbeing with many children without, or at risk of losing, parental care and experiencing low levels of wellbeing. Poverty is one of the major risk factors for loss of parental care and poor wellbeing, often interacting with other risk factors such as family tensions, violence and HIV/AIDS. Social protection can support children’s care and wellbeing through its provision of income transfers and complementary components such as sensitisation and linkages to social services.
This article presents findings from cross-country qualitative research regarding the impact of social protection on loss of parental care, support to foster or kinship care and quality of care and wellbeing in Sub-Saharan Africa. It investigates large-scale nationally implemented cash transfer and public works programmes in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa. We find that social protection has the potential to support the prevention of loss of parental care, to provide much-needed financial support to kinship or foster carers and to improve child wellbeing and quality of care for all children through direct and indirect income effects as well as psychosocial and behavioural effects.
Programmes may also lead to unintended adverse consequences as a result of financial incentives for providing care and work requirements for caregivers in exchange for their transfers. Adequate transfer size, availability of child care services, greater use of sensitisation opportunities, and appropriate roles and responsibilities for social workers and other programme staff are crucial for improving positive impacts and reducing potential negative side effects.