5.3 Measuring Child-Level Impacts
It is by now well established that early life experiences have significant impact on children’s brain development and their foundation for health, behavior, and learning. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how livelihood programs directly or indirectly affect the wellbeing of young people. Presenters from USAID, FHI 360, and the Women’s Refugee Commission shared recent research and programmatic guidance to enhance the measurement and monitoring of child-level impacts to achieve lasting economic change. The presentation drew summarized evidence, analysis, and recommendations from a new publication, “Why Measuring Child-Level Impacts Can Help Achieve Lasting Economic Change.” The publication was developed by STRIVE—a project funded by USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF) and managed by FHI 360—in collaboration with the Child Protection in Crisis (CPC) Network Task Force on Livelihoods and Economic Strengthening, convened by the Women’s Refugee Commission.
A.) It's Critically Important to Understand How Children and Youth are Affected by Economic Strengthening Programs, yet there are Substantial Gaps in Our Knowledge
Improved household economic status is strongly correlated with higher levels of child-well-being. It is therefore not surprising that improvements in child wellbeing are often assumed to emerge from economic strengthening programs. While some evaluations support this assumption, however, evidence on child-level impact is mixed and incomplete. Based on an extensive review of the empirical evidence, the STRIVE/CPC publication presents four key findings:Economic strengthening programs have produced positive outcomes for children, including better nutrition, health, schooling, and financial management.
Economic strengthening programs can also result in unintended negative consequences for children and youth, such as decreased school attendance or gender-based violence.
Multisectoral programs – whether focused on adults or youth – appear to result in better social outcomes than interventions delivered in isolation.
- Increasing the income and agency of women, as compared to men, often leads to better outcomes for households and children.
In a nutshell, the existing evidence is fragmented, conflicting, and very context-specific. Thus, many questions remain, such as the overall household-level effects of economic strengthening programs, the extent to which improvements in household welfare translate to child-wellbeing, and the extent to which positive child-level impacts today have lasting effects on economic outcomes in the future. 
B.) More Investments are Needed in Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research for Child-Level Impacts Related to Economic Strengthening Efforts
The findings above illustrate the importance of understanding more about the complex dynamics of economic strengthening programs and their impacts on children and youth, and the need to better monitor outcomes to stay true to the principle of doing no harm. How then, can we design Monitoring, Evaluation, and Impact Assessment efforts to achieve better learning?
Based on the experience of STRIVE and the CPC Network, the following recommendations emerge to better understand child-level outcomes:
I. Practitioners should monitor children's wellbeing in order to maximize benefits and prevent harm.
- Plan for child-level monitoring from the outset. Practitioners should assess and plan to monitor how children may be positively and/or negatively affected by project activities. Important dimensions to consider include changes in time-use of household members, earning/spending patterns, and changes in household dynamics (e.g. control of resources, level of care, interpersonal relations) that may result from the intervention. Generally speaking, practitioners should avoid relying on anecdotal information because the conclusions drawn from such limited information can be severely misleading; it is therefore essential to draw on a variety of data collection tools and evaluation methods (i.e., mixed methods).
In order to adequately monitor the effects of program activities on children and youth, practitioners should track key indicators of child- and youth wellbeing. Examples of relevant intra-household indicators include:
Average number of hours boys and girls spent doing domestic work.
Average number of hours boys and girls spent working outside the home.
Average percentage change in expenditures on girls’ and boys’ needs (health, education, other basic needs).
Average number of meals consumed/day, protein consumed, household hunger score.
Percentage change in primary/secondary school enrolment/attendance since the intervention was implemented (or average number of missed days of school).
Percentage change in primary/secondary school completion rates for girls and boys.
Number of children who report improvement in their own well-being.
- Number of women in partnerships who report increased ability to influence household spending decisions.
Incorporate local definitions of success. Since monitoring indicators and systems that are developed from a distance run the risk of not yielding meaningful results, practitioners must engage local stakeholders (including direct and indirect participants), local staff, and researchers early in the design of the monitoring framework. Together they can develop a locally appropriate vision of success and identify potential harms, while adding locally relevant indicators.
- Collaborate with local organizations. Establishing partnerships with local organizations can enhance affordable and sustainable long-term monitoring. Local universities, research firms, NGOs, and other groups often have expertise that can be leveraged for data collection. Even when capacity of local stakeholders is limited, investing in data collection capacity building can strengthen future efficiency.
II. Donors should promote the sector’s accountability by calling for and funding monitoring, evaluation and research for child-level impacts related to economic strengthening efforts.
The current gaps in knowledge about how economic strengthening affects child wellbeing need to be addressed through the systematic measurement of child-level impacts, including both formative research and impact and outcome evaluation. Mixed methods approaches, which combine the ability of quantitative research to measure how much change occurs with the ability of qualitative research to describe how and why change happens, will yield the most useful knowledge. This knowledge, along with research methods, data, indicators and approaches, must be shared in order to broadly inform policy and practice. All of these efforts require dedicated time and funding, and strategic investments now will help generate a feedback loop that will lead to more effective and efficient programming.
This guide from the CPC Network and STRIVE published in 2013 was developed for practitioners designing or implementing economic strengthening programs in low-income settings with a sensitivity to the wellbeing of vulnerable children. It shows how to mitigate threats to children‘s wellbeing that may be an unintended consequence of economic strengthening interventions and discusses practices for maximizing benefits.
Child Protection in Crisis Network – Livelihood and Economic Strengthening Task Force
The CPC Network undertakes research and builds evidence to effect change in child protection policy and practices. As part of this effort, the CPC Task Force on Livelihoods and Economic Strengthening seeks to enhance the protection and wellbeing of crisis-affected children through sustainable livelihoods approaches and economic strengthening of households. The Task Force is convened by Women’s Refugee Commission on behalf of CPC and can be joined by contacting Josh Chaffin ([email protected]).
Visit CPC Network's website at: http://cpcnetwork.org/task-forces-details.php?ID=2
 See discussion and citations of the empirical evidence on p. 5 of “Why Measuring Child-Level Impacts Can Help Achieve Lasting Economic Change.”
For example, the CPC Network’s 2011 publication, “The Impacts of Economic Strengthening on Children: A Review of the Evidence” reviewed 43 studies on livelihood programs in crisis and low-income settings and documented the known impacts on children. While the review showed that economic strengthening programs can have many benefits for children and youth (either targeted directly or as children of beneficiaries), it also showed that interventions can lead to negative outcomes, such as child-labor or gender-based violence.