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Evaluating cash transfers for orphans and vulnerable children, Kenya


Clare O'Brien, Patrick Ward, Aly Visram, Fred Merttens, Ian MacAuslan, Ludovico Carraro, Patrick Ward, Simon Hunt

An endemic disease in several parts of the African continent, HIV has decimated many Kenyan families, often leaving young children without the support of caring adults.

When the Department of Children Services (DCS) in the Kenyan Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development and UNICEF developed a pilot cash transfer programme to help affected households, our team at OPM was also recruited to monitor the programme’s progress and outcomes.

Thanks to our evaluation work, the Government of Kenya can now benefit from an informed body of evidence and recommendations on how to better support vulnerable children in the years to come. More broadly, by aiding vulnerable children in a more effective way, Kenya will benefit from a stronger and more educated population which in turn will be able to promote social and economic growth within the country.


Kenya has been seriously affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The vulnerability of affected households, both through the loss of productive adults and through the impact of chronic illness, has increased across the country. In response to this, the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, with assistance from UNICEF, developed a pilot programme of support for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).

Its overall objective is to 'provide a social protection system through regular and predictable cash transfers to families living with OVC in order to encourage fostering and retention of OVCs within their families and communities, and to promote their human capital development'.

Our team was commissioned to design and implement an independent, rigorous evaluation to assess the impact, operational effectiveness, and costs of the cash transfer programme. As the CT-OVC programme was a pilot programme, robust evidence of impact, operations and costs is required to justify scale up across the country.

Our approach

Our impact evaluation was based on a comparison of programme recipients with a group of controls, interviewed before the programme began and again two years later. We assessed impact by comparing changes in the various measures of the welfare of recipients (such as consumption or school enrolment), with changes observed amongst the control households. In this way, we were able to filter out any other changes that may be happening in the population in general rather than being triggered by the programme.

At follow up, an additional component of the questionnaire asked recipients about various aspects of programme operations, providing the information for the operational evaluation. Specific activities undertaken by the team included:

  • designing and implementing a quasi-experimental impact evaluation that randomized sub-locations to either treatment or control groups;
  • deploying a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to determine the impact and operational effectiveness of the pogramme;
  • conducting a baseline survey in 2007 (a total of 2,759 households were included in the baseline sample and 2,255 of these were interviewed again in a follow-up survey in 2009);
  • conducting a targeting analysis which examines the effectiveness with which the programme identified and enrolled its target group; and
  • conducting a simple costing study in which programme expenditures are tracked and cost per cash transfer and costs per household supported is reported.


The CT-OVC succeeded in providing regular cash transfers to thousands of households, with a payment system that works well and causes few complaints. Some other elements of operations required strengthening, including communication, case management, and the operation of penalties.

The targeting process was found to be moderately pro-poor overall, due to OVC households being poorer than average. Since fostering and the retention of OVCs within their extended families and communities were already well-grounded in existing social norms, the programme did not appear to increase their frequency.

However, the programme had substantially raised consumption and reduced poverty in recipient households, and so made it easier for them to maintain their living standards while caring for OVCs. Improving living standards in the face of extensive poverty and vulnerability is an important achievement.

The programme was found to be effective in delivering cash benefits that enhance the welfare of recipients, many of whom are poor children, responding to an important social need. Some of the human capital indicators reflect multiple, complex determinants and may take longer to change.

The evaluation also provided an opportune moment to reconsider the basic design elements of the programme. It might consider, over the medium term, extending support to a much wider group of vulnerable children, within the context of Kenya’s overall social protection framework

Journal of Development Effectiveness

The impact of the Kenya Cash Transfer Program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children on household spending