Agribusiness plus parenting classes cuts child maltreatment in Tanzania

The project could bring hope to rural communities struggling to end violence against children

Integrating parenting classes with training in the business of agriculture significantly reduced child maltreatment in rural Tanzania. Positive parenting sessions have long been combined with cash transfers, but rarely with sustainable rural business models. The project, called SPACAPS, could offer a new model uniting the fight against child maltreatment and poverty across the global south — and accelerate rural development in the process.

Results & Impact

A cluster randomised controlled trial showed that running a 12-session parenting program and agribusiness classes side-by-side significantly reduced overall child maltreatment and physical child abuse in Tanzania. The combined program reduced physical child abuse more than the parenting sessions alone, and much more than the agribusiness-only program, which increased physical child abuse.

Key Parties

ICS Africa, Government of Tanzania.

How

ICS Africa delivered a 12-session parenting program in tandem with training on how to improve crop yields for farming families in rural Tanzania. Parenting sessions included learning positive discipline techniques, communication skills, and child protection. The agribusiness component provided participants with non-GMO, drought-resistant seeds and information on how to sustainably maximise crop yields.

Where

Tanzania and Kenya.

Target Group

Rural population

Cost & Value

The SPACAPS program now reaches around 10,000 families per country per year across Kenya and Tanzania. The parenting program costs around $50 to $70 per family for the full course, while the agribusiness project, run through microcredit loans, charges dependent on the acreage of participants’ farms.

Stage

Running since 2012

Hurdles

Working in line with planting and harvesting seasons is essential to the projects’ success. Without a full understanding of seasonal change and appropriate scheduling, farmers are unlikely to participate. In Tanzania, the project also caused a boom in demand for basic services like child birth registration, nutrition specialists and child protection. But for many rural communities, those services were too far away to access, leaving some communities dejected and unmotivated.

Replication

The project is now running in Tanzania and Kenya, and has begun a pilot in Cote d’Ivoire, training cocoa farmers supplying the country’s chocolate industry.

The Story

Economic strengthening and parenting classes are two strategies proven to reduce child maltreatment — but combining the two has rarely strayed beyond adding parenting classes to generic cash transfer programs.

Now, Tanzania is experimenting with a new model.

SPACAPS is a dual-pronged intervention that combines positive parenting sessions with classes training people in good business practices for agriculture in order to reduce income insecurity, boost food security, and reduce child maltreatment.

Skilful Parenting is a 12-session program that incorporates training on positive discipline — focusing on the good, not the bad, in behaviour — communication skills, and the identification of and appropriate responses to child protection concerns. The first five to seven sessions focus on mother-father relationships as well as the parent-child dynamic, while the final five consider household budgeting and economic stability.

AGRICS, the agribusiness training program, aims to boost crop production and reduce income insecurity by providing drought-resistant non-GMO seeds to farmers and training on accessing new markets and sustainable farming. Seeds and fertiliser are bought with microcredit loans, which are repaid using profits from increased crop yields.

According to Beatrice Ogutu, director of ICS Africa, the NGO who designed and implemented the intervention, the project differs from many other child protection initiatives in two key respects.

“When we started, most programs at the time were only looking at child maltreatment and violence prevention, nobody was talking to parents about their own personal issues,” said Ogutu. Providing a space for parents to work on their own relationship was key to high retention rates — some 90% of adults participated in the one-year post-baseline test.

Ogutu also felt that dealing with relationship issues also encouraged men to join classes. Between a third and half of participants were male, an unusually high percentage for parenting sessions. Jamie Lachman, one of the researchers responsible for the project’s evaluation, said: “If you want to engage more men, you need to target places where men are.” By taking parenting classes and offering practical help in income generation, men took an interest.

The second aspect differentiating SPACAPS from other initiatives was its integration of parenting classes into the local economy — not simply a government-led cash transfer program.

“For us, sustainable development is about empowering people to drive their own change. Cash transfer measures are a short-term measure for a long-term problem,” said Ogutu.

The results of a cluster randomised controlled trial pending publication but seen by Apolitical showed a marked reduction in child maltreatment and physical child abuse among families receiving the combined intervention and the parenting program alone.

But families receiving only the agribusiness training recorded an uptick in child maltreatment reports.

Jamie Lachman said: “Our evaluations showed that economic strengthening alone can have a negative impact on child’s wellbeing. We can’t implement [violence prevention measures] in silos.”

First trialled in 2012, the project has reached some 60-70,000 children to date. The parenting course costs between $50 and $70 USD to administer, while the agribusiness training depends on the acreage of land owned by a participant farmer.

But its successes have not been without challenges.

The implementation of the project was initially delayed to account for the patterns of Tanzania’s planting and harvesting seasons. Failing to account for local rhythms and seasonal change hampered participation rates.

A second challenge came in the booming demand for services the project inspired.

“When parents become more aware, the demand for basic services increases. They wanted to take their children for birth registration, for growth monitoring, and to access services including health, nutrition and child protection,” said Ogutu. The problem was that, in some of the rural communities, those services were too far away to access, leaving parents dejected.

Despite its challenges, Ogutu hopes that SPACAPS might offer one way into a sustainable and scalable model of violence prevention and economic strengthening for rural communities in low- and middle-income countries.

“Cash alone does address the issue of structural poverty at community level. If a family is empowered to the level that they can drive their own change, there you receive much more sustainable results,” she said.

For now, SPACAPS will continue its work in Tanzania and Kenya, but is looking to scale up across the continent. It recently began a pilot in the Ivory Coast, combining the Skilful Parenting program with training to boost productivity among cocoa farmers that sustain the nation’s chocolate industry.

The success of the project, in Ogutu’s eyes, is its ability to tap into existing economies and cultures. The Ivory Coast is, she hopes, just the first of many test cases. — Edward Siddons

(Picture credit: Flickr/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

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