— Today’s post comes from Professor Carolyn Heinrich, Director of La Follette, on her recent research project she is leading in South Africa —
I had quite a few inquiries about what I was doing in South Africa this week, so I thought I would write a little bit about what I am working on there and also share some photos from my trip. I am working with a multinational team—an Italian and a German from Oxford Policy Management, a Canadian and U.S. citizen from the International Food Policy Research Institute, and South Africans and a Romanian from the Economic Policy Research Institute and two other South African firms—to assist government officials in South Africa’s Department of Social Development in improving the effectiveness of their Child Support Grant program. The program was started in the late 1990s to help reduce child poverty and infant mortality, and it has since been expanding both in the ages of children it targets and the coverage of the grant.
My meetings there this week began with two days of intensive workshop to review evidence and identify critical issues regarding the Child Support Grant program and to plan our work over the coming years—8-5 pm with the government officials and 5-10 pm or midnight with the international team. The other two days were spent part in the field and part in workshop. We went out to government offices and local organizations to interview people and observe the processes of grant enrollment and mobile payment units. The next day we visited orphanages, hospitals and informal settlements where the poorest of the poor reside.
One of the photos I am attaching is of a boy who is proud that his home has 4 walls and a roof—it doesn’t matter the size or what they are made of. Most of the settlement homes are made of scrap metal, particle board or any other material that is available and are typically the size of a bathroom in an American home. Another is a photo of a house in which a family of 12 resides—a grandmother caring for 8 grandchildren, two of her daughters and an aunt—two of the children’s mothers had died from AIDS. She told us through an interpreter that she can’t really afford the rent; the grant assistance she receives only gets her a little ways into the month, and then she has to borrow from neighbors or struggle to feed the family until the next grant payment arrives. The living arrangements of “families” are extremely complex, and the government has a hard time getting the grant to the actual “caregivers” of the children. Some mothers abandon their children but still claim the grant. Deaths don’t always get recorded. They also have a lot of refugees from other African countries living in the informal settlements, and they don’t have the documentation required to get the grant. Of course, falsified documents can be had for a price. I could go on and on about these complexities, but suffice to say that it makes our similar challenges here in the U.S. seem much more manageable.
Another photo shows some brick structures that were going up in the informal settlement. It turns out that the Crossroads Church in Cincinnati is building these homes—still small but of a much more stable structure. The church had also built a hospice to care for the dying who have been abandoned and an orphanage. We met a man in the hospice from Mozambique who had made his way to South Africa but didn’t know how to get home in his state of illness. They had no way to reach his family, and the staff didn’t know what they were going to do with him; the nurse said they were “praying for a miracle.”
The first phase of our work, which is being funded by the South African government and UNICEF, involves defining a sample and implementing a baseline survey to get a more accurate picture of who the poor are, how they are using the grant, how many household members are involved in decision making about the grant’s use, and many other aspects of the household and the focal child. Measurements of the children will be taken along with detailed information on household expenditures, nutritional intake, labor force participation, social/risky behaviors and many other aspects of their lives. The biggest challenge will be locating individuals to obtain a representative sample of who is intended to benefit from the grant, especially in the poorest areas. That is why our team met at nights, too—to strategize about the work and develop concrete proposals and arrangements. We will also be collecting qualitative data in the field in September to help guide the survey design and finalize our sampling strategy.
As a team leader, I am responsible for the overall work strategy and plan, and I will also be analyzing administrative data that will be used in evaluating the program and will later analyze the baseline survey data, too.
If you’re interested in future updates and photos (probably not likely to be more than once or twice a year), just let me know. And feel free to share the photos–I think they help to put life in perspective!