SCORE: Modeling household-centered economic strengthening in Uganda

SCORE first update 3 childrenAVSI has recently completed the first of five years of a highly innovative program funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and can report that great progress is being made in reaching the most vulnerable families in Uganda.

The SCORE program, “Sustainable, COmprehensive REsponses for Vulnerable Children and their Families” is being implemented by AVSI Foundation, together with CARE, TPO, FHI360 and dozens of local partners across 35 districts of Uganda. The program design carefully factored in what experience has shown us works best to improve the lives of children, integrating activities in four areas: economic strengthening, nutrition, child protection and family strengthening all focused on the family unit rather than isolating children or adults.

SCORE is innovative because: SCORE logo

- it moves dramatically away from direct service delivery to a model of facilitation, capacity building, demand creation, and strengthening of referral systems;

- it takes a household approach beginning with a close-up understanding of the household’s vulnerabilities, assets and interests and moving to the participatory development of household development plans;

- activities are implemented through local organizations embedded in the communities, which serve as a stable point of contact for households across service areas, therefore within a holistic framework of support;

- it embraces a family approach, taking stock of the uniqueness (in terms of needs and resources) of each different beneficiary household and supporting it as first line of prevention and response to the child’s vulnerability.

 

A look at the beneficiaries

Vulnerability and needs assessments carried out with each household have provided insight into the households in the implementation area, guiding the process of forming a household development plan together with each family. Getting to know the situation of each household is designed to be the first step in developing relationships, which is continued through home follow-up visits, essentially accompanying each household as they find their path towards greater stability and well-being.

As of June 30, 2012, 16,425 households were enrolled in the SCORE project, which before its completion is projected to involve over 20,000 households. The average declared income was 18USD/month. A significant proportion of families relied on grandparents, relatives or even the children as main income contributors.

SCORE first update table income

In terms of food security, half of the households has bad feeding practices, neglecting one or more food groups in their diets, and about a third eats less than two meals per day.

SCORE first update table meals

Strong concerns in terms of child well-being and protection also surfaced from the assessment data. School attendance was generally high in all regions, but close to half of the children surveyed were reported having been absent from school for at least a month in a given term. High incidences of child abuse, neglect and child labor have been documented and flagged as requiring specific attention.

Achievements

As expressed in its title, the SCORE program is designed to respond to the circumstances of individual families. This means asking local implementing partners to help direct participants to a wide combination of services, intelligently selecting what fits the assets and needs each household has. As of the end of June 2012, SCORE has put into motion a range of activities including: village savings and loans; apprenticeship training for youth; farmer field schools and kitchen gardens; cooking demonstrations and nutrition education; trainings for child protection with local officials, school communities and families; referrals for essential services including nutrition, health care and legal protection; and a range of workshops and counseling sessions with households on issues such as parenting, education, water and hygiene.

 

Positive outlook for the future

Even in this early stage of the project, we see the potential for much fruit to be borne, both in terms of the impact on participating households but also in terms of demonstrating the effectiveness of the approach.

A few advantages we see so far:

-   The shift in approach means that we increasingly rely on the intrinsic incentives of the families to work for a good life for themselves, to move away from vulnerability and into a situation of greater stability. This desire is natural and embedded in them, but cannot be awakened by merely handing out tools or resources. It is the key to a pathway toward sustainable outcomes for vulnerable households.

-    Strengthening referral pathways and creating demand for services by informing and linking beneficiaries with service providers means more sustainable markets for services in the future and greater accountability of providers.

-    Opportunities for collaboration with other actors, donors, and researchers are endless.

-   The vast amount of data and information on a select universe of highly vulnerable households is a tremendous resource that can be used both to continuously improve the program design and for synergy with other programs, representing opportunities for participants even beyond the scope of SCORE.

In summary, the SCORE program was consciously built on concrete, reliable evidence generated from previous project experience—both AVSI’s and from other actors and agencies—which directed us to the conclusion that the best way to serve highly vulnerable children is to look at the family surrounding each one, understanding the family’s capacity to meet the range of needs of its children today and for years to come. It is also premised on the growing awareness that a package of handouts is less useful than an intervention structured to build assets, relationships and networks that can sustain a family on its own path towards a more stable and dignified future. AVSI has embarked on a great adventure to put these ideas to the test, involving over 20,000 participating households in the process!

Or perhaps the best summary comes in words from the field. During a recent mission, a staff member of one of our local implementing partners, fully engaged in the day-to-day details of the complex program, commented:

"What this project needs is time and love."

Time, because SCORE does not offer a generic “quick fix” to patch over a few of the needs we see in the children and their households, but offers instead an invitation to begin a longer road of growth and building ties to the services and society around them. Love, because the journey requires effort and patience, since these families deserve nothing less.