Child care reform in Uganda

In partnership with Maestral International and Makerere University, we are conducting an independent performance evaluation of the Deinstitutionalization of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (DOVCU) project.

Project team members

This is a 36-month, USAID-supported, child care reform project being implemented by a consortium of non-governmental organizations in 12 districts of Uganda. The evaluation aims to measure the performance and sustainability of the project activities and identify broader lessons around child care and child protection.


The project under evaluation aims to develop solutions to complex social and policy problems. On one hand is the issue of child care policy. The Alternative Care Panel, established by the Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in 2011, identified the need for child care policy reform, due to the mushrooming number of baby and children’s homes across the country (500+)... Many of these homes do not submit to legal process, and are contributing to the unnecessary removal of children from families and communities. On the other hand is the issue of child protection, and the push-pull factors (and accompanying wellbeing concerns) which lead children to end up in institutions in the first place.

The DOVCU project aims to address both these issues and has two main objectives:

1) To reduce unnecessary separation of 43,000 children from their families, and

2) To place 2,000 children currently outside of family care in nurturing families.

To achieve these objectives and ensure sustainability of the outcomes in the lives of children, DOVCU also aims to support a reform and strengthening of the institutional and policy environment of the child care system in Uganda. Our in-depth policy analysis assesses the project’s influence on the level of development of support services and schemes, gatekeeping mechanisms, and policy space for various forms of alternative care (including both informal and formal forms of family-based care). It also examines the capacity of existing care institutions to transform and take on new roles in a reformed child care system. The qualitative and quantitative work will provide information on the perceptions of children, their families and communities regarding their changing conditions of vulnerability, general wellbeing, and prospects for the future. We are also looking at the mechanisms through which the different interventions associated with the program have unfolded.

Our approach

Our evaluation entails three components:

  • A policy-based analysis focuses on child care system stakeholders and regulatory bodies at the local, district and national levels.
  • The quantitative component is already complete. This involved an analysis of DOVCU’s monitoring data, assessing the influence of the intervention in changing wellbeing indicators among the targeted children.
  • The core component of the evaluation is a qualitative study. This aims to provide a clear idea of how the project is affecting the wellbeing of vulnerable and hard to reach children and their households (particularly around domestic violence, substance abuse, gender-based violence and cultural practices).

We used both primary and secondary research methods to interrogate each level of the DOVCU programme’s theory of change. At the first level, this involved contextual data collection to assess the extent to which the programme is reforming the child care systems. The particular focus was on promoting deinstitutionalization and preventing unnecessary separation of children. At the next level, we focused on the direct influence of the project outcomes, both at policy and systems level, as well as in the lives of vulnerable children and their families. We also examined the contributions of the project to building capacity of formal and informal actors, to effectively implement the country’s new Alternative Care Framework. Finally, we collected data relevant to the programme’s activities which aim to change the situation of vulnerable children and their families, reducing the likelihood of separation or unsuccessful reunification.

Specific services provided included:

  • Design of a participatory, child-friendly qualitative study. This was implemented with nearly 200 children, in a variety of living situations. These included children living in child care institutions, children living in the street, children in remand homes, and children living in target communities across 6 districts.
  • In depth case studies with 48 households at medium and high levels of risk of being separated from their children.
  • Discussions with community members, including those with formal and informal responsibilities related to child protection.
  • Policy level interviews at national, district and local levels.
  • Review of intake documentation and procedures in 18 community-based, faith-based, government and NGO-run child care institutions and remand homes.
  • Quality assurance and analysis of the monitoring data being collected by the programme team.


This evaluation will provide crucial information about the DOVCU programme’s outcomes, impact and sustainability. The findings generated by the evaluation will feed directly into ongoing national policy debates on the care of children, and help build the evidence base around the issue.

Read about our work in the press here.

Areas of expertise