The Data for Impact team in Uganda.
Members of the Data for Impact team reflect on how data and a case management information system can help social services, case managers, guardianship authorities, service providers and ministries manage data on and safeguard children-at-risk.
Meet Elias, 13-year-old boy living in Mbale District, Uganda. His father died when he was just two years old. He had a learning disability and received support at the local school, but six years later, struggling to meet his most basic needs, his mother placed him in a residential care institution or ‘orphanage’ in a different district. This was a devastating and difficult decision for both mother and son, and Elias struggled for the next three years with an untreated learning disability that led to behavioural issues.
When the orphanage closed down, Elias immediately returned home. His mother had remarried and Elias’ behavioural problems became more severe. His new stepfather was abusive, pushing Elias to run away from home, and was eventually picked up by a local organisation that provides support to children living on the street and helps them return to family members. But unfortunately for Elias, caseworkers’ efforts to trace his family have so far proved futile and he remains in the system.
A Common Problem Across the World
Elias’ situation isn’t an unusual one, but with the right system in place, it could be avoided altogether. There are approximately 50,000 children living in an estimated 500 residential institutions in Uganda. Many of these institutions are unregistered and operate with little to no government oversight. Perhaps more startling is the fact that more than two-thirds of the children living in institutional homes in Uganda have a living parent. With the right support, they could return to their birth parents.
According to the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children, the removal of a child from the family must be a measure of last resort, and whenever possible, be temporary and for the shortest possible duration. The guideline adds that poverty should never be the only justification for the removal of a child, and if a child is separated, the ultimate goal should be to reunify the child with family.
To protect the child’s best interests, the reunification process needs to be carefully planned and managed, with effective and sustained family preparation, strengthening, monitoring, and other support to ensure the child isn’t left in a more vulnerable situation than where they started.
How Data Could Have Helped
The UN Guidelines also explicitly indicate that the State is responsible for developing, implementing, and coordinating policies on care for all children without parental care, and those policies should be based on sound information and statistical data. This data, when properly implemented in a larger system, can be crucial for helping caseworkers and others to better support children like Elias and his family.
Many countries rely on paper-based or aggregated data for reporting purposes and don’t have ways to address some of the urgent issues children face. A well-designed, digitised, web-based platform can help social services, case managers, guardianship authorities, service providers and ministries manage data on children-at-risk, with tools that facilitate case management and longitudinal tracking, and integrating information from different agencies that manage child protection data.
Ideally, this digitised case management information system (CMIS) would streamline and integrate vertical data from the community up to the district and national levels and facilitate horizontal integration of data across services. It could have provided valuable information to caseworkers to help Elias and his mother at various points in time:
Current Status of Alternative Care for Children Data
Ministries of Gender, Labour and Social Protection typically have the primary responsibility to care for and report on vulnerable children. Few countries have achieved a useful CMIS at scale, but there is a keen interest from service providers, governments, implementing partners and donors in achieving this.
What would it take to implement this type of system successfully? Some of the key factors include:
The successful implementation and deployment of a CMIS depends on understanding the children’s true needs, working with case managers to understand their pains and incentives, and understanding of the local technology and capabilities.
But when it’s in place, a functioning CMIS has the potential to generate data to monitor and address at-risk children’s and family’s needs, to avoid unnecessary separation, appropriate placement in temporary alternative care, and ensure successful reunification of children and families.
Data for Impact (D4I), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is an associate award of MEASURE Evaluation. D4I supports countries to generate and use high-quality data to improve their programs, policies, and—ultimately—health outcomes. For more information, contact email@example.com.