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Child sponsorship ‘raises self-esteem’

03 May 2013

CHILD sponsorship, an initiative abandoned by many development charities, delivers "large and statistically significant impacts" on children's schooling and employment, a new study suggests.

Researchers led by Professor Bruce Wydick, of the Department of Economics at the University of San Francisco, examined whether children sponsored through Compassion International had "improved outcomes" as adults. They studied data collected between 2008 and 2010, on 10,144 individuals, in six countries: Bolivia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, the Philippines, and Uganda. In total, data was gathered on 1860 formerly sponsored children, 3704 of their unsponsored siblings, 2136 individuals from non-participating families in villages where the Compassion programme operated, and 2444 individuals from similar, nearby villages without the Compassion programme. The independent study, published in the Journal of Political Economy this month, received no funding from Compassion. The charity, which runs the world's third largest child-sponsorship programme, serving 1.3 million children in 26 countries, was approached by the researchers five years ago.

The study concludes that participation in the Compassion child-sponsorship programme increases the average number of years of completed schooling (10.19 years) by 1.03-1.46 years. The probablity of those completing primary school (88.7 per cent) increases by 4-7.7 per cent, compared with an increase of 11.6-16.5 per cent on the 44.5 per cent who complete secondary school. The probability of those completing university (4.3 per cent) increases by 2.1-2.4 per cent; and the probability of being in salaried employment (35.7 cent) rises by 5.1-6.3 per cent.

The researchers conclude that a possible explanation is Compassion's "emphasis on raising children's self-esteem, reference points, and aspirations".

The chief executive of Compassion UK, Ian Hamilton, said this month that the research was "very significant. . . One of the most exciting things about this research is it validates individual sponsorship of children as opposed to community development. . . There is validity in all methods of development." He said that it was "very, very difficult" for those organisations focused on community development to validate the effect on individuals.

All children sponsored through Compassion write letters to their sponsor, and most receive correspondence from their sponsor. Mr Hamilton believes that "for a child with very low aspirations and low self-esteem to understand that he has someone on the other side of the world praying for them and providing funding, it has a huge benefit in terms of the development of that child."

Compassion sponsors had increased by about eight per cent in the past year.

Many development charities do not operate a child-sponsorship programme. In the 1980s, a much-publicised report in the New Internationalist argued that it was divisive for families and communities, fostered dependence, caused cultural confusion, frustrated desires by raising unrealistic aspirations, and caused wasteful spending.

Tearfund stopped accepting new sponsors ten years ago. This month, the UK director at Tearfund, Andrew McCracken, said that child sponsorship was "not the best way" to achieve the charity's vision "to build a global network of 100,000 local churches lifting 15 million people out of poverty". It was a "difficult model" for reaching the poorest and most vulnerable children, because it was difficult to guarantee that such children could be tracked and monitored over the long-term. The model of sponsorship also clashed with Tearfund's emphasis on sustainability - supporting projects that would survive "if Tearfund closes tomorrow". He recognised the value of creating a link between donors and beneficiaries, and cited seeforyourself.org, a website that highlights the progress of one community, as one response to this challenge.

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