Here’s what’s happening around the world in the area of child welfare and protection.
For everyone, 2020 was a year that presented unexpected challenges. In Colombia, this challenge was turned into an exciting opportunity to quickly adapt an in-person parenting program into a virtual program that provided psychosocial family support through new technologies to continue the parenting assistance to vulnerable children and families who were experiencing lockdown challenges.
Maestral worked with USAID’s Human Resources for Health (HRH2030) program to support Colombia’s Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF, Colombian Family Welfare Institute) to monitor the virtual implementation, focusing on the process and delivery which helped ICBF to visualize policy recommendations for the scale-up of their national family support program, Mi Familia.
Mi Familia is a comprehensive parenting program, that seeks to strengthen parents’ and caregivers’ ability and knowledge to parent in positive, developmentally appropriate ways with the end goal of preventing violence and unnecessary separation. The program was designed in 2019 as a home-visiting program and implemented in 2020 by 40 approved agencies. It was developed by trained Family Support Professionals (or PAFs as per the Spanish acronym) who conducted weekly home visits over 9 or 13 weeks and supplemented with four group sessions. The goal for 2020 was to reach 64,000 families in all regions of Colombia.
In March 2020, with the national announcement of lockdown measures, ICBF was determined to maintain family assistance, which meant a rapid adaption of the program to a remote delivery method. By May 2020, Mi Familia had been adapted to a virtual program. The already-trained facilitators (PAFs) were ready to make regular calls to enrolled families and provide psychological support using simple protocols adapted from the initial curriculum.
Over the next six months, PAFs spoke with each family during 20-minute calls three times a week. PAFs were provided with data for their phones to ensure that the additional work via phones could happen promptly. The program’s savings in transportation costs were invested in more technological resources.
Maestral was involved in designing an assessment of virtual delivery and supporting the analysis of the findings between August and October 2020.
The assessment explored how the transition was perceived by both families and parents and caregivers, as well as facilitators and their supervisors. Overall, both families and PAFs reported that they were appreciative of the program. Parents and caregivers reported feeling pleased that they received calls. Facilitators reported feeling supported and prepared to deliver the virtual model.
We found several aspects of the adaptation that were especially useful:
Technical Assistance Professionals (senior personnel acting as supervisors and quality control officials, working both with ICBF and the contracted NGOs) helped to review the virtual guides that were adapted from the in-person manuals. They gave practical feedback about adaptation to make implementation would be feasible. They also provided virtual training sessions to PAFs and ongoing discussion groups to share PAF’s concerns or challenges. These were then communicated to ICBF.
ICBF placed a lot of trust in the implementers and showed a great amount of flexibility and responsiveness. This was an empowering element that contributed to overall success as was mentioned in a focus group discussion. As one PAF noted, “The Technical Assistance Professionals support us, listen to us, and that has helped us a lot to lower the stress not only of work but about ourselves as human beings.”
PAFs were innovative and creative in how they engaged with families and the way they delivered the program. They often contributed with their own time and resources helping vulnerable families have access to other social programs or find a time that would suit the family. One PAF talked of arranging a time with the family’s neighbor, who had a phone, and calling at the agreed time over the weekend and in evenings, for example.
ICBF has built on the success of the virtual program and is now developing a blended approach that they hope will enable the delivery of positive parenting programs to regions and populations that historically were not targeted, specifically, because they were hard to reach.
The assessment also identified several important challenges that are being addressed currently in the adaptation of Mi Familia moving forward – greater promotion of children’s and adolescents’ participation in the program; understanding and addressing barriers to male participation; and enhancing referrals to other care providers through awareness-raising with PAFs and improved coordination with other ICBF departments and external service providers.
Moving forward, Mi Familia aims to serve 280,000 families throughout the country by the end of 2022. ICBF FCD is confident that a blended model can build on the positive experiences from the virtual program. To do so, it is necessary to strengthen training and supervision and strengthen the relationship between the PAFs and those professionals engaged in and responsible for making care decisions, such as children’s placement in alternative care or reintegration. Finding ways to strengthen these linkages will be an important step in future implementation.
ICBF has recently adapted the Mi Familia program into an online guide that can be used as technical support by facilitators and is also accessible to parents and caregivers who are interested in drawing on the source materials: https://youtu.be/VAP87fsj62Q