Home Street Home
On 12th April 2013 street children, NGOs, celebrities, policymakers, businesses and individuals will observe the International Day for Street Children. The theme for this year is Home Street Home – highlighting that for many children across the world the street is their home.
The International Day for Street Children provides a platform to call for governments to act and support the rights of street children across the world. But a recent study shows that we have very little evidence on the ways in which we could act most effectively to address the needs of street children. We need such studies as this is the only way we can avoid spending on ineffective programmes and channel funding to programmes that do work. We call for more impact evaluations to inform programmes aiming to improve the lives of street-connected children.
Programmes for street-connected children
Programmes for street-connected children aim at reducing the risks these children face and improving integration with mainstream society. But which of these programmes work?
A recent 3ie-supported systematic review based on an extensive search of published and unpublished literature identified 11 studies evaluating 12 different interventions which met the inclusion criteria. But despite the existence of many relevant programmes in low- and middle-income countries, all the included studies were from high- income countries (Korea, UK and US). There were no sufficiently rigorous studies that could be identified from low- and middle-income countries.
The studies from high-income countries compared new therapeutic interventions, such as group based cognitive behavioural therapy and behavioural family therapy, with the usual services offered at drop-in centres or shelters such as rooms, free meals, clothes, health and counselling services. On the whole, these studies were found to be of low to moderate quality. Overall the “new” programmes did not prove to be better at helping street-connected children and young people than usual services. A reason for this finding might be that young people using services are choosing to accept support and have therefore already made a decision to change their lives. This goes to show that we need to learn and understand more about the nature of strategies used to promote services to children and young people and what factors make them want to take up services that are available. So the main finding from this systematic review is that there is a big gap in our knowledge.
Nevertheless, by reviewing the literature systematically the research team identified a significant body of primary research in low- and middle-income countries focused on who the children and young people are, their views of the world around them, in addition to some process and participatory evaluations focusing on interventions. To utilise the insights from this existing research, 3ie is funding a follow up review to synthesise some of this evidence, particularly on strategies for promotion of interventions and engaging young people, which will be available later this year.
Lack of evidence
In the past decade, there has been a rapid increase in the number of impact evaluations of a range of different and often complex development programmes. But the increased funding and demand for impact evaluations and high quality evidence has not yet reached the sector working to support street-connected children around the world. The lack of evidence in this area is a significant challenge. By wasting money on what may possibly be unhelpful programs, we are denying street-connected children access to services that are most effective in realising their rights to food, education and security. Poorly planned or forced interventions may also have negative effects. This highlights the importance of evaluations which look at a range of potential outcomes – both positive and negative.
We recognise that the relevant interventions in this area are complex and that evaluating such programmes rigorously can present methodological, practical and ethical challenges. But this does not justify not making an attempt at least. And solutions to address many similar challenges are being implemented in other sectors.
An example which carries transferrable lessons is an evaluation (Berry and Linden 2009) which assesses the effects of an active recruitment intervention on the attendance of out-of-school children in a community based programme in urban Gurgaon in India. They used a randomised controlled trial design to select 25 of every 60 children from a household census to receive active recruitment to the programme, with the remaining children still being eligible to attend.
A similar evaluation design could be adopted to evaluate educational projects, vocational training or drop-in centres targeting street-connected children. We could also conduct a process evaluation and participatory research involving beneficiaries to enhance the usefulness of the research and include a perspective from programme participants. Only with many more such studies can we really undertake programmes to help street-connected children around the world.
Listen to the podcast of the Systematic Review on Interventions for promoting reintegration and reducing harmful behaviour and lifestyles in street-connected children and young people.
(Esther Coren is a Senior Researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University and was Principal Investigator on the systematic review discussed in this blog.)