2014 Georgia: Evaluation of results achieved through child care system reform 2005-2012 in Georgia
Author: Roxana Irimia and Nino Shatberashvili
For more than 10 years Georgia is engaged in a process of reforming the child protection system, in the context of a shift from a system focused mainly on large scale institutions offering residential care to a system which promotes respecting the right of each child to grow up in a family environment. The country inherited an institutional framework from the socialist period that placed the responsibility of child protection at the state level, without/with under developed alternative models of protecting children at risk.
The early stages of the reform targeted de-institutionalization as the main priority; the most recent stage of the reform puts more emphasis on family strengthening. As a result of the reform in the reference period the child care system in Georgia has moved towards a family based care system, while the number of large-scale residential intuitions has reduced to four (in 2012). In the process of reforming the system, the country has introduced and is developing a system of family-based services, namely foster care and small group homes (for up to 8 and up to 10 children). De-institutionalization, down-scaling or closing down of large residential care and creating alternative family based care were constant goals and much progress has been done in this area.
The present report was prepared in the framework of Contract No. 43147186 entitled Evaluation of results achieved through child care system reform 2005-2012 in Georgia between UNICEF Country Office in Georgia and Pluriconsult Ltd. (Romania). The report aims to present the results of the assessment of impact of the child care reforms on children and the contribution of UNICEF’s work in the country. It documented the progress and achievements of child care reform in Georgia, but also identified the gaps of current approaches, un-intended side-effects of reform efforts in the reference period. The results of the evaluation will be used to inform current programming, policy debates and help UNICEF to position itself in supporting the future policies related to child care in Georgia. It will also be used to communicate results and share experiences from the on-going child care reform to contribute to the mutual learning of Government and UNICEF on how to best ensure the child’s right to grow up in a family environment.
The evaluation framework was designed based on the OECD-DAC evaluation criteria: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and impact. The methodological approach combined desk review with quantitative and qualitative field data collection. The field data were collected based on interviews and focus groups with Government representatives, staff working in child care systems, children and parents, as well as from NGOs (international and national) and staff of international organisations. Also, the evaluation included a survey among staff working in the child care system. The evaluation was carried out between 2013 and 2014.
Findings and Conclusions:
In the reference period there has been a significant decrease in the rate of children separated from their families and among children separated fewer are being cared for in formal care institutions. However, the alternative case services failed to perform a transitional function to the family and they turned deinstitutionalization into trans-institutionalization. Services have been developed, though they are nor equally accessible in all regions of the country for all children. The reform failed reaching many vulnerable children such as street children, children from poor families, children abused and neglected, children of minority groups, children aging out of the care system, children with disabilities. The key for sustainability or the next step of the reform is considered to be the development of family focused services, not just cash transfers. There is a gap between the data produced and the actual use of child protection statistics. Instead of struggling for the development of preventative measures state social workers remain an instrument of reactive policy witnessing the threat to the success and sustainability of the child care reform. The reform was hindered by policy makers’ rushed decisions driven by reporting progress or successful accomplishment of deinstitutionalisation instead of strategically pursuing children’s best interest. New laws and procedures address the problems of the most vulnerable, however the new legal framework does automatically generate changes of social norms. One of the major challenges of inter-sectorial policy making, programming and budgeting with focus on results and impact at the level of beneficiaries remains the capacity of the existing administrative settings. Little progress has been made in terms of redirecting financial resources towards preventative measures. The evaluation has shown that UNICEF is increasingly committed to and actually implementing a more cross-sectoral approach.
The focus of child care policy on preventive measures and reducing equity gaps for vulnerable children should be increased. The Government should develop more family support services in the country, in terms of variety and geographical coverage and adopt measures aiming to ensure that social work practice is reoriented on outreach service or develop robust referral mechanism based on social workers and other community workers. A prevention-focused child care strategy will have to change the current tendency of placing children in alternative care preferred to putting more effort and time into ensuring better support to the families by expanding the scope of existing family strengthening programs and developing new ones. The institutional arrangements of the child care system suffered several changes which generated delays and bottlenecks, while the a fully functional governance of child care system require clear mandates and responsibilities with stable relationships among different levels of the system (central and local, state and non-state). Government’s allocation efforts increasingly directed to alternative care seem not to have turned automatically into better outcomes for children. In order to increase the efficiency of its’ support for the progress of child care reform in Georgia, UNICEF CO should consider moving gradually from investing in enabling environment-related actions and roles (except those meant to change social norms and attitudes which need further strengthening) towards a more balanced focus also including demand and quality of services related actions and interventions. In the reference period UNICEF CO has invested considerably in piloting innovative interventions which were only partially brought to national scale. Other stakeholders (especially INGOs) also invested in piloting child care interventions and recognized UNICEF’s added value in taking the smaller scale models to a more strategic level considering the whole system.
The child care reform is administered under the central Government limiting local responsibility though local response on child related problems will be more rapid and effective. The importance of the development of family strengthening component of the reform is not yet recognized among decision makers. Mobilization of the decision makers appeared to be more challenging than originally thought. The development of alternative care services and their constant refinement within the reporting period is considered to have been effective. High speed of deinstitutionalization may have led to tangible results, but the high pace of the process was done on the expense of sustainable social inclusion of children. The joining resources of Foster Parents Association, Small Group Homes Association and NGO coalition in the best interest of children seem to be an attractive measure. Legislative changes did not automatically reflect in changes of social perception and norms. In the implementation of any evaluation the process of data collection has to be carefully considered in order to keep the balance between the credibility of the result and the resources (human resources, time and money) available. The evaluation encountered major challenges in terms of balancing data between two phases (child welfare under MoES and child care under MoLHSA) of the reporting period. Thus, quantitative data (both secondary and primary) from partners were quite difficult to collect. The effort and resources invested in quantitative data collection is very high, while the evaluation of the early period of the child care reform appeared not to be relevant anymore for the key partners in the Government.
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