Cash transfers, otherwise known as social grants, are growing in popularity in low and middle income countries.
Their main goal is to reduce the poverty and inequality gaps that exist between advantaged and disadvantaged families. There are many positive outcomes linked to cash transfers. For example, children in households that benefit from them enjoy better health, nutrition and schooling.
One example of a Cash Plus intervention in South Africa is Sihleng’imizi, which means “We care for families” in isiZulu.
It was based on research by the Centre for Social Development in Africa, then designed, executed and evaluated by a team of researchers from the Universities of Johannesburg, Chicago and Utrecht. Sihleng’imizi was specifically designed to complement South Africa’s child support grant.
The child support grant reaches over 10 million children and goes a long way towards meeting children’s constitutional rights.
We did a study to establish the effectiveness of Sihleng'imizi in supporting family care for better child well-being.
The study findings suggest that 80 percent of families involved in the programme reduced the use of harsh parenting, including physical punishment.
The study sample consisted of 60 families from ten of Johannesburg’s most disadvantaged wards. Families were assessed at the beginning and at the end of the programme, which ran for 14 weeks. We then drew comparisons between those who received the child support grant and the family intervention and a control group that only received the grant. We interviewed caregivers, children and educators.
The intervention programme is a group based psycho-educational intervention offered in local communities. It was delivered by social workers and child care workers from the City of Johannesburg who worked in collaboration with no-fee paying primary schools.
Positive communication between caregivers and children improved for 87 percent of families in the study and there was significant improvement (95 percent) in caregivers perception of their own effectiveness as parents. A reduction of five percent in caregiver depression between the intervention and the control group was also noted.
These positive outcomes suggest that the programme could offer great value to children and families if integrated into existing social services. The social policies are already in place to link cash with care services to disrupt deep-seated and cumulative disadvantage. But, some building blocks need to be in place for a successful outcome.
First, social workers and social service professionals need to be adequately trained, supervised and mentored to deliver high impact preventive interventions of this kind. And second, the country’s over-reliance on formal court-mandated child protection to promote child well-being needs to be reexamined. These remedial strategies are necessary, but limited as the dominant approach, because they can’t reach large numbers of children and families.
Professor Eleanor Ross, Jenita Chiba and Dr Karen Luck also contributed to this article.