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Evaluating Ghana's child protection systems

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Ramlatu Attah

Following the launch of the Child and Family Welfare Policy (CFWP) in 2015, the Government of Ghana, in collaboration with UNICEF, embarked on a workforce strengthening initiative in 20 pilot districts during 2017-2018. Together with local partners we evaluated the initiative to document and assess how the capacity of the child protection system — in particular the practices of the social welfare actors — had changed to enable the provision of quality services to children and families with support of the initiative.

The challenge 

The existing child protection system in Ghana is not consistently able to protect children or promote their wellbeing. Since 2010, the Government of Ghana and other stakeholders have been working to transform the way child protection and family welfare are conceptualised and services organised. The CFWP was developed to ensure that child protection system is fit for the context of Ghana and address, among others, the reactive nature of service provision, lacking coordination among actors, and capacity gaps among the social welfare workforce.

The initiative aimed to support the implementation of some of the policy objectives, in particular, to strengthen the capacity of formal and informal institutions and service providers to ensure quality services to children and their families. Since the CFWP encourages child and family welfare services to adapt to the local context, the initiative used an innovative problem-iterative adaptation approach to identify and try out new actions to address local child protection problems. Building on district-level learning, guidelines were developed to offer a framework of reference for continued implementation of the CFWP.

Our approach 

The adaptive nature of the initiative made it difficult to anticipate results pathways in a precise fashion. Outcomes were emergent as a function of context and local experimentation. To build an in-depth understanding of how the initiative and its outcomes were emerging, the evaluation used a qualitative multiple case study approach. A range of mainly qualitative data collection methods were applied during three rounds of fieldwork in five case study districts. The data collection methods used ranged from participatory observation, key stakeholder interviews, group discussions, document review, a qualitative case review, and a participatory outcome harvesting workshop.

The evaluation also applied a systems perspective to give special consideration to linkages across sectors in the child protection system. We focused in particular on the collaboration between the formal child protection system and informal community-based protective mechanisms, and engaged a wide range of stakeholders to gain multiple perspectives to address the evaluation questions.

The evaluation started in January 2017, following the initiative's sensitisation workshops at district level, and finished in September 2018 when guidelines had been formulated and finalised based on the learnings from the initiative.

Outcomes and wider impacts 

The evaluation was designed to run in parallel with the implementation of the initiative. This allowed interim evaluation findings based on the second research round to inform the development of the guidelines during a national stock-taking workshop with national and local stakeholders.

The final evaluation findings provided comprehensive, high-quality information about the relevance, effectiveness, and sustainability of the initiative. The findings were discussed and validated in a participatory way with national and district stakeholders to facilitate their uptake. The evaluation included recommendations that allow UNICEF Ghana and the government stakeholders to strategically and operationally strengthen implementation of the initiative and its guidelines.

The evaluation was conducted with support from Rebecca Davis (Rutgers Global Health Institute), Susan Sabaa (Child Research and Resource Centre), Kobby Optson, and Participatory Development Associates Ghana.