The CSDA’s Communities of Practice (CoP) Project is a multi- and trans-disciplinary collaboration between researchers and practitioners across different sub-fields, including social work, sociology, psychology, education psychology, education, mathematics and language curriculum, mental health, nutrition, primary health care, community nursing, public health and school health care services.
In the CoP study, we target children and their caregivers who receive a Child Support Grant (CSG) in the foundation years of schooling, namely, Grade R and Grade 1.
In initiating the CoP we were interested in understanding, firstly, what constituted the most appropriate cross-sectoral interventions to step up child well-being outcomes, and secondly, how these interventions could be delivered across the health, education and social welfare sectors. We were also interested in evaluating the viability of the CoP approach for strengthening social sector systems to improve child well-being in urban communities.
The project has been very successful and the project can point to many impressive achievements, especially when considering that the project was implemented during a global pandemic.
Some of the key highlights include:
Child well-being tracking tool (CWTT)
The CoP project collaborated with a multi-disciplinary team of specialists who developed a digital child well-being tracking tool (CWTT). This tool is composed of different domains that are populated by inputs from caregivers, children, teachers and nurses. The input data was developed by the wider interdisciplinary research team while the development of the digital application was designed and led by an engineer and his team at the UJ.
This tool shows promise in being used beyond this project and could be adopted by local and provincial governments to assess children’ well-being and in the delivery of customised interventions as required. Valuable longitudinal data could also be generated to assess children over the four years in the foundation years of schooling and for tracking high risk children and families to follow up with supportive services over time.
Digital information portal
A digital information portal was established by the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at UJ to disseminate information about the CoP. The website went live in 2021 and is used to share relevant information, learning and best practices.
Three research papers have been published on the CoP portal hosted by the CSDA:
- Working Paper 1 – Progress in the First Grade: Assessment of Children in a Social Development Project
- Working Paper 2 – Cash Plus School-Based Services
- Working Paper 3 – School Staff Awareness of Psychosocial Support Available as per the Integrated School Health Policy (ISHP) in South Africa
Journal articles based on these papers are currently in development. In addition six other co-authored articles with CoP partners are being written based on data being analysed. A base line research report was published and disseminated via the CoP partner networks.
Webinars and conferences
Preliminary findings of the Wave 1 base line study were released and presented at the 22nd Biennial Conference of the International Consortium for Social Development (ICSD) in July 2021. Six CoP partners presented at a round table discussion at the ICSD conference and the CoP hosted a round table on Cash Transfers and Care along with local and international partners from South Africa and China.
Five webinars were hosted by CoP partners targeting policy makers and implementing partners across the different sectors. These provided opportunities for critical engagement and identifying new and additional partners who wished to join the CoP project.
The topics discussed were:
- How well are children and caregivers faring? Findings from a psychosocial assessment of early grade learners during the Covid-19 pandemic
- Numeracy, literacy and vocabulary assessment of early grades children in a social development program
- What lessons can we draw from the CSDA’s Sihleng’imizi programme?
- Psychosocial Support Services at Schools
- Context Matters: child growth within a constrained environment
The CoP team produced three training manuals to guide interventions in languages and mathematics and science education and complementary cash and care interventions were published. Social workers were trained to deliver the family strengthening intervention with families who were selected and who could benefit from the intervention.
The project is now in the final stages and will be concluded by the end of July. In the coming months we will be finalising a series of journal articles to share our research with our peers in addition we will host a final series of webinars.
We hope to continue with this work for a further two-year cycle subject to funding approvals. If our funding application is approved we aim to to refine the CoP model and assess viability in a rural context; to track child well-being longitudinally; design, implement and evaluate short-term solution focused interventions; to work together to develop a guide for social system strengthening to improve child well-being in the school-family-community context and to support local level CoPs to support and enhance child well-being.