Sierra Leone: what we are learning about community based child protection mechanisms

Between 2011 and 2014 the Interagency Learning Group on community-based child protection mechanisms and child protection systems released a series of reports which document the development, implementation and preliminary findings of an innovative community-based child protection action research programme in Sierra Leone.

This ground-breaking research was conceived in response to concerns around the effectiveness and sustainability of common models of community-based child protection such as child protection committees or child protection focal points. For many years numerous international agencies, donors and governments have been incorporating these models into child protection policy and programming even though there is very little evidence demonstrating if, how and why these types of community approaches are effective.

The research findings so far are encouraging. They indicate that by taking adequate time – in partnership with the local community – to get a clearer picture of how people perceive and address childhood, child protection and risks to children, truly community-owned interventions which build on existing local structures and groups can be facilitated. In this particular case the communities targeted the high incidence of teenage pregnancies. Early evaluations suggest that the intervention has helped reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in communities, that it has strengthened community links to government health services and that the intervention has the potential to continue in the long term without direct external leadership.

Download and read the four-page brief on the implications of this work for community-based child protection implementation. This will be available soon!

Phase One: An ethnographic study to help us understand how communities in Sierra Leone approach protecting children

In 2011 the ethnographic study set out to try and identify local people’s concepts of childhood and child protection, what they perceive to be risks for children and how communities commonly respond to child protection concerns. This included looking at how community responses are linked to any “formal” child protection systems, such as the police, health services or social welfare.

Download and read the ethnographic study brief  here (7 pages)

Phase Two: Communities mobilise and participate in action research to reduce teenage pregnancy

The communities identified the problem of teenage pregnancy as a priority which they wanted to address in the next phase. Local people were frustrated because they had tried hard to reduce teenage pregnancy but had not succeeded. Looking for a more effective approach community people thought that engaging with government officials such as the staff at health posts could help communities reduce the problem. A collective “Task Force” was created by the communities which represented sub-groups – such as children, elders and women – and villages and which took responsibility for implementing the intervention with the support of locally-based facilitators and monitors.

Download and read an overview of the intervention to reduce teenage pregnancy here (14 pages)

Phase Three: Evaluations and community members report positive preliminary results

After a year of implementation preliminary findings were identified through a midline evaluation in 2014. Comparison villages were included in the baseline and midline evaluations to allow for comparison between teenagers taking part in the community-led intervention and teenagers with no intervention in their village. In addition, participatory workshops generated feedback and information.

Download and read the midline evaluation brief of the intervention here (18 pages)

Download and read the preliminary results of the participatory review workshops here (11 pages)

Download and read the baseline report here (60 pages)

Read about and watch the webinar with Lindsay Stark and Sarah Lilley recorded on 15th October 2014 here.

Next steps: 2014 and beyond

A plan is being implemented to progressively withdraw the external facilitators and monitors from the communities and to transfer these functions entirely to the communities.

The sustainability of the intervention over longer periods of time will also be tested including how the intervention can go to scale, by enabling similar intervention processes in the comparison chiefdoms and in other districts.