Report finds child sponsorship works, but there is room to improve

Report finds child sponsorship works, but there is room to improve

A major new study on child sponsorship gives the model a tick for positive impact while highlighting ways to improve outcomes for children being left behind.

The RMIT University research is the first comprehensive study of Plan International’s 12 million survey dataset in a full-scale, independent analysis of child sponsorship.

While it shows benefits – for example higher likelihood of birth registration, school attendance, access to clean water and general health and social wellbeing for sponsored children – it also highlighted areas where more work can be done.

Report co-author, RMIT’s Professor Simon Feeny, said for example that children were found to be more likely to be in school every year until the age of 10, when the probability of attending school began to decrease.

Co-author Dr Sefa Churchill added that other outcomes were also less positive among adolescents including the chance of being classified as poor increasing around 14 years of age.

“This indicates that new approaches need to be employed to address the risks associated with adolescence as a stage in a child’s development,” said Churchill. 

Communication between sponsors and children also emerged as a key issue with the study showing there is a positive relationship between communications and development outcomes.

Letter writing is a key aspect of Plan International’s sponsorship model and the findings indicated some positive effects of letter-writing such as greater self-reported health and higher levels of school attendance.

Conversely however, the report revealed feelings of jealousy among children without a sponsor and disappointment when letters from sponsors were not received.

Co-author Professor Alberto Posso said there was a difficult balancing act at play as while minimal communication could help to avert jealousy among children in a community without a sponsor, it could also lead to disappointment among those who were sponsored.

“Unfortunately, low levels of communications were shown to produce negative feelings among assigned children who were expecting more contact,” he said. 

The study showed child sponsorship helps to increase school attendance by encouraging parents to register their children’s births.

Among the recommendations, the report suggests Plan International should devise a policy that specifies expectations over letter-writing and receiving gifts, aimed at both sponsors and children.

“To prevent negative feelings arising in communities where some children but not all are receiving letters and gifts, Plan International could consider adopting a ‘community sponsorship’ model,” Posso said.

Plan International spokesperson Miriam Gauer said the report provided solid evidence of the positive impact that child sponsorship has on sponsored children and their communities.

She also said it provided useful direction for how to continue to improve upon the model and design more impactful sponsorship models.

“The study highlights a lot about what we’re doing really well as well as areas where we can do better, which is precisely what we were aiming to achieve with this research,” she said.

As a result of the study Plan International’s senior leadership have approved an action plan to address the issues identified with improved processes, policies and approaches.

The research team included RMIT’s Professor Simon Feeny, Professor Alberto Posso and Dr Sefa Awaworyi Churchill, and RMIT associate Dr Gill Westhorp, Director of Community Matters Pty Ltd.

Child sponsorship is a development approach that is widely used in the international NGO sector, generating an estimated $3 billion each year to help some 9.1 million children and their communities.

Story: Grace Taylor

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