“Challenges Need to be Adressed Holistically”

ICS-SP (Investing in Children and their Societies-Skilful Parenting) received the 2016 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize for its unique approach to combine agribusiness with skilful parenting aimed at improving early childhood development, parenting and agricultural practices in rural areas. How ICS-SP developed its unique program and what impact it has made on parents and their children – read more.

Farming families in rural areas of East Africa often live in dire conditions, which can lead to harsh or poor parenting, harmful practices rooted in tradition, violence and gender inequality. It is hard to break this vicious cycle of poverty and violence for the next generation, which often faces the same challenges.

Beatrice Ogutu, Director ICS-SP in Nairobi, Kenya says: “To ensure that children reach their full developmental potential, we knew that the challenges should not be approached in silos, but holistically. We needed an approach that would address all risk factors at the same time in a sustainable way.” With this in mind, ICS-SP started a pilot project combining agribusiness with skilful parenting in 2012. “We saw that a sustainable increase in income together with a focus on parenting knowledge, skills and confidence brought major changes in family functioning and child well-being”, says Ogutu.

Combination has positive impact
With the agribusiness approach ICS provides seeds on credit to farmers, trains them on modern agronomic practices and offers additional services like better technology for improved land preparation. In addition, ICS provides the farmers access to a market with set prices for their produce, so they know in advance how their profit will look like. “Here too, we use a holistic approach providing not only training and services but also the opportunity to access a fair market”, says Ogutu. This combination of opportunities has a positive impact on smallholder farmers’ yield and income.

Theory and self-reflection
“With the Skilful Parenting program we go a step further and work with the same farmers to ensure that all household members benefit equally from the increase in yield and income. We believe that this will ultimately lead to the children growing up in a safe and nurturing home”, says Ogutu. Skillful parenting is a 12-week, group-based parenting program designed for, and evaluated in, rural areas of East Africa. “With the program we aim to increase parental competence and well-being and strengthen the social support system”, explains Ogutu. For the program, parents and caregivers with children aged 0-18 come together in peer groups on a weekly basis for theoretical sessions; to reflect on their roles and parenting styles; and to share their daily parenting experiences and dilemmas.

The sessions are complemented with events in the community to ensure participation and ownership of the newly gained perspectives and practices. In addition, local government representatives use the sessions to start their own work with parents on early childhood development, health, HIV, nutrition, birth registration, education, etc.

Evaluating success through research
After participating in the Skilful Parenting program, parents feel more competent, communicate better and have a better relationship with their spouse – as an evaluation by the University of Utrecht found. Parents also reported a reduction in harsh discipline and an increased use of positive discipline methods. The University of Utrecht identified several aspects which make Skliful Parenting successful:

  • It is grounded in local culture
  • It uses local definitions of parenting
  • It has a participatory approach
  • It focuses on the parent as an agent of change.

ICS-SP together with the University of Oxford and a local research institute is running a pilot cluster randomized-control-trial process in Tanzania to evaluate the impact of the combined approach (Skilful Parenting with Agribusiness) and the two programs separately on reduced risk of child maltreatment and improvement of child wellbeing. Results will be ready by the end of 2016.

Over the past four years, ICS-SP has worked to establish a viable model of sustainable agribusinesses and a context-specific parenting program that come together at community level. Beatrice Ogutu plans continuing to advocate with local and national authorities to include parenting support as an integral part of social services. “We hope to take our combined approach to scale in Africa while maintaining quality and operational excellence.”