When does community action let the Government off the hook?

In Tanzania too many people live hand to mouth, as deep and shallow poverty exist side by side. The prevailing belief is that children unite a family, but that they should defer to adults. Until recently young children have been considered by the Government to be the responsibility of the family and not a group that warrants any services beyond health care.  

The main concern of the programme that I evaluated was to mitigate the effects of poverty on children’s developmental outcomes, and to do so by increasing young children’s access to early years education. They did this by equipping community volunteers to run community based early years centres; and establishing micro-finance funds for women to help finance the centres.

Using a narrative approach that sought out people’s stories; we inquired about parents’ and early years educators’ internal capacities to protect and nurture children. We also investigated the attitudes and behaviours of the Local Government Authorities with regards to investing in services for young children; and sought out changes in familial and community relationships. The interviews were coded and analysed using the classic grounded theory method.  

We discovered that individuals who have been touched by the program are now ready to parent. But, punitive parenting continues to be prevalent in the communities. Parents and local leaders who were interviewed believe that the early years educators are “true teachers” even though they have learnt on the job. Parents hear that the early years services are good; their children want to attend; and then parents see their child thrive.

Notably, community members are self-organizing to undertake development initiatives that benefit children. Unexpectedly, social capital has been strengthened as a result of the establishment of community managed micro funds that were initially intended to provide funding to the early years centres.

The success of the program does raise larger questions about the planning and financing of social services when communities have initiated their own services. The program had a working assumption that the early years centres would be legitimized via a process of Government supervision, regulation, and resourcing. However, the minimum standards for centres that were developed by the Government are not fit for purpose. This is because they frame quality in terms of infrastructure and processes, and ignore standards around safety. Nor, is the Government fully invested in resourcing the regulation of ECD centres.

Many community members see the value of contributing to early years education, and ward officials recognize that early years and child protection services need financing. But, this does not translate into revenue. Planning to resource services is a completely different thing from delivering services, and children’s services continue to be treated as a matter of charity.

I think that long-standing systemic impact for young children can only be achieved if neighbourhood leaders [both public servants and elected officials] self-identify as agents of change; if a social consensus emerges that services for children need to be resourced by the government; and finally if citizens and leaders learn how to navigate the Government mechanisms for participatory planning and budgeting, and consistently put pressure on the government to resource children’s services.  

The full research report can be downloaded at http://www.doingtherightthing.co/publications/

References

Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). Discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine de Gruyter.

McAlpine, K & Omesa, Njeri (2017) A Qualitative Evaluation of the Impacts of a Program of Integrated Child Development in Tanzania. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Children in Crossfire.