Author: Volpi, E.; Tarkhan-Mouravi, G.; Sumbadze, N.;Institute for Policy Studies, Georgia; Development Researcher's Network
The projects “Prevention of Infant Abandonment and De-institutionalisation” (PIAD) and “Family Support and Foster Care” (FS&FC) share a two-fold objective. On the one hand, they aim at preventing additional children from entering residential care, and at de-institutionalising
children that are already there, by: (i) addressing the causes of child abandonment, and (ii) creating family-based alternatives to institutional care. On the other hand, they intend to provide a model to encourage the adoption of family and community-based child protection policies at
The FS&FC project was initiated in 2001 by the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science (MoES), in partnership with EveryChild, and it now covers 5 regions in the country. The project’s components included the employment and training of the first cadre of social workers in Georgia, under the authority of the MoES, and the delivery of gatekeeping services such as fostering and adoption, cash assistance to vulnerable families and foster parents, material assistance and counselling. The target group includes children from age 4 to 18. The total project budget amounted to US$ 353,219, of which US$ 125,302 was funded by UNICEF. After May 2004, the MoES has taken over the project. The PIAD project started in 2002, in partnership with EveryChild, World Vision, the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs (MLH&SA) and the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES), with the intent to build upon FS&FC services, but with a specific target on children up till the age of 3. The project foresaw the hiring and training of social workers and the delivery of an integrated package of services, including a mother and infant shelter, employment and business support, material assistance, counselling and mediation, fostering, adoption and family reintegration arrangements. The total budget for four years (October 2002 – September 2006) amounts to US$ 633,400, of which US$ 119,000 is UNICEF funding. MoES is expected to take over the programme by September 2006.
The projects represent the first effort to introduce alternative child care services in the country. Since they are small scale initiatives, this cannot be expected to make a significant difference in reducing the number of children in institutions. From UNICEF perspective, therefore, the
relevant evaluation question is what contribution the projects are making towards the development of a full-fledged gatekeeping system in Georgia. In particular, the evaluation discussed: 1) whether the two projects have succeeded in establishing good practices in gatekeeping, which can have a demonstration effect and be scaled-up; and 2) whether they managed to influence government policies towards adopting a family and community-based approach to child protection.
The complementarity between the two projects justified a joint evaluation, although the analysis also looked at the specific characteristics of each project in terms of implementing agency, age target, strategy and approach. The evaluation falls at critical stages of both projects’ cycles, at the time when major projects components have just been, or are shortly going to be, taken over by the government. The evaluation is thus expected to provide lessons on what is needed to establish a full-fledged gatekeeping system, assisting therefore the government, UNICEF, and projects’ implementers to fulfil their mandates in this context.
The evaluation used both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. Field instruments included: a) Desk review b) 34 semi-structured interviews with project stakeholders -donors, implementing agencies, project managers, government representatives, experts, projects’
beneficiaries - in the Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi regions. c) 5 focus groups with social workers in the same regions. d) Questionnaire administered to 47 mothers benefiting from projects’ preventive services in Tbilisi.
All key institutional stakeholders, and the totality of social workers, were reached by the evaluation in the 3 selected regions. The qualitative interviews with projects beneficiaries were limited in number as their purpose was to highlight the key-issues to be subsequently addressed by the questionnaire. The sample for the questionnaire is considered representative of the total number of beneficiaries of projects’ preventive services. It does not include, however, eligible persons who cannot be reached by the services.
Findings and Conclusions
The Family Support and Foster Care (FS&FC) project and the Prevention of Infant Abandonment and De-institutionalisation (PIAD) project have introduced elements of practice that constitute the basis for the development of a full-fledged gatekeeping system in Georgia, including the first cadre of social workers in the country, sound case management practices, and standards for child care services that are becoming the basis for national ones. The multidisciplinary decision-making panels created at regional level constitute one of the promising practices pioneered by the FS&FC project, establishing a mechanism for transparent decisionmaking in the best interest of the child. The PIAD has introduced innovative practices to handle the complexity of needs of beneficiaries, including shelter and employment support.
The MoES has now taken over FS&FC services. EveryChild’s ability to meet MoES requests, and its willingness to raise the Ministry’s capacity, was a central element in making FS&FC services part of the government system. In the case of PIAD, the more articulated and expensive approach makes the perspective for government take-over more uncertain, hence the need to single out its more effective components. The sustainability of employment services is particularly at risk, due to the limited MHL&SA support and lack of targeted employment policies in the country.
The projects have been successful in promoting the adoption of a government strategy for reforming child protection services. UNICEF, EveryChild and World Vision have been actively involved in advocacy and capacity building activities, using lessons learned from their projects on the ground. Inter-donor cooperation (including EU as a major player) towards a common goal has been instrumental in achieving results such as the establishment of the Interministerial commission on Child Welfare and De-institutionalisation, the work on standards for alternative child care services, and the government’s Optimisation Plan on institutions.
In order to build on the results of the two projects and work towards a full-fledged gatekeeping system in Georgia, a number of challenges will have to be addressed. The definition of institutional mandates and accountabilities for the provision of various types of services is still in
progress, and there is no clear indication of which services the government would deliver and which ones would need to be outsourced. In the meantime, priority needs remain unmet, such as day care centres, or services for disabled children. The hasty closure of institutions before such
alternative services are in place may have a negative impact on child welfare. Weak inter-agency cooperation, and, particularly, the insufficient MLH&SA involvement, are preventing the development of an effective referral system. In addition, existing mechanisms for public funding
to institutions, and the lack of employment alternatives for staff, still provide incentives to institutionalisation. The cultural resistance of institutions’ staff constitutes a major obstacle for gatekeeping.
The services established by the projects, although of high quality, present some short-comings that will need to be addressed when going to scale. In particular:
- The follow-up procedures (especially within the FS&FC project) are not adequate to assess the outcomes of services in terms of child welfare.
- There is no system of independent monitoring or audit of project activities, or formalised mechanisms for independent complaint handling.
- The absence of a well-developed and computerised information system at the MoES level, shared by all providers of alternative services and relevant agencies, is an obstacle towards developing effective internal and external monitoring mechanisms.
- The amount of cash assistance provided by the MoES is insufficient to motivate a large number of people to become foster parents.
- Social workers’ skills, exclusively focused on child care, may prove insufficient to deal with the complexity of beneficiaries’ needs.
• Develop an implementation plan for the Child Welfare National Strategy, defining accountabilities and mandates.
• Regulate the referral system, establishing legal obligation for exchange of information among relevant agencies.
• Reform the current mechanisms of funding of institutions.
• Introduce follow-up procedures to assess the long-term outcome of services.
• Ensure implementation of re-deployment policies for institution staff.
• Establish independent and effective systems of monitoring, evaluation, supervision and complaint handling based on the best interest of children.
• Develop a number of indicators to assess project impact and outcomes, not only in terms of services provided and outputs, but also in terms of long-term child welfare.
• Develop adequate information systems to support planners, decision-makers, and implementing agencies dealing with child care alternative services.
• Undertake employment policies, targeted to vulnerable families, to address the causes of child abandonment. Establish a link between MoES social services and services provided by state employment agencies.
• Increase the amount of cash assistance provided to foster parents.
• Ensure timely draft of the law regulating social work, including a training and certification system.
• Cash benefits are not always the right or sufficient instrument to support parents in raising their children. An integrated package of services, including shelter and employment support, is more effective in addressing the complexity of beneficiaries’ needs.
• Targeted employment policies are an important component of a gatekeeping system.
• Sound cooperation towards a common objective and the effective division of roles established between UNICEF, implementing agencies, and other donors in the country have been a powerful tool in leveraging government support and moving the system in the direction of child welfare reform.
• In order to create an effective gatekeeping system, a number of institutional changes should happen at the same time. Limited changes in one sector only (such as closure of institutions while delaying the establishment of alternative services, or social work without a proper referral system) are not likely to produce a significant impact on child and family welfare.
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ECD - Organized Child Care and Early Learning