The ABLE Program Evaluation
“Tell us what you think!” That is what we said to 16 CIF foster and kinship care families caring for children with special needs when we invited them to participate in focus groups as part of our recent ABLE Program evaluation. The best way to know if what you’re doing is effective is to go straight to the source, the children in families themselves. So we loaded in a van and traveled to our beloved village where so many of our children have been placed.
It was a full day!! Any real program effectiveness evaluation takes time, but it was worth it. We conducted our program evaluation along with an independent consultant, who facilitated the focus groups with support from an independent translator in an attempt to get the most honest, unbiased information we could.
While each focus group was in session, the ABLE staff worked to provide hospitality to those waiting and to try to ensure a smooth flow of activity. We had worked together on program evaluation methods in advance to develop a list of questions designed to draw out the best and worst of these families’ experiences with regard to coping with disability, being a foster parent, and being a part of the ABLE program.
On the day of the focus groups, we left from Phnom Penh at 6:00 am in order to get an early start, since we would have to squeeze in 5 focus group sessions (3 interviewing parents, 2 interviewing children) at the village office before heading back to Phnom Penh that evening. Thankfully, everything went smoothly and we came away from the village loaded with information. We are still processing how to respond to all of the feedback we’ve received – what adjustments we need to make, etc., but we’d like to share some of what we heard from our families.
“I love my child. I never consider my child a foster child, I feel like he is my own.”
That was one of the most encouraging comments that came out of the program evaluation focus groups. Similar sentiments were expressed by a number of the carers interviewed. The ABLE Program is intended to be a support to families, not a substitute for them. Our aim is to encourage and empower these families. While we wanted to learn from the survey what we are doing well and what we could be doing better, it was great to get the feedback that families are invested in caring well for these kids. We can’t hope to have much impact without that.
While there was a lot of feedback about the love and concern these families have for the children in their care, there was also plenty of feedback about the challenges. No surprise there, since the very reason the ABLE program exists is because we recognize that children with disabilities require a lot of extra help and, no matter how much they are loved, their care can put a lot of strain on families.
So, reading some of the responses of families felt a bit heavy, to be honest. We know that many of our families are dealing with a lot, but to have some of them quoted as using expressions like:
“I feel pressure every day,” “It is sometimes unbearable,” and “I feel despair.”
These statements of course reinforced both the importance of what we are doing and the need for us to never stop working to improve. It also made us feel very proud of these families, many of whom have voluntarily taken on these challenges. And, even alongside these heavy disclosures, we received a little boost of encouragement during the program evaluation from quotes like these:
“Even with the issues, I feel warm because the staff is always checking on the child”
“I always share with the ABLE team, so I feel very understood.”
The Road Ahead
The focus groups were just one part of our program evaluation and, combined with other elements, helped us to give us a platform for some strategic planning to develop a roadmap for further program development. We won’t bore you with all of the details, but we did want to highlight a couple of areas we would like to develop.
- Most of ABLE’s support has been provided to families on an individual basis. There are a lot of advantages to home based services, so we will continue to provide them, however, we’ve also seen the value of bringing these families together, so we plan to facilitate regular meetings which will provide opportunities for both training and for sharing and mutual support between families.
- The feedback from the focus groups also really helped to reinforce the need for a project that we had already been considering – a respite day center. This will be a big undertaking and we have a lot of ground work to lay before we can really tackle it, but it was really helpful to receive some solid support from the families for doing it. We had assumed for quite some time that a respite day center had the potential to be a huge benefit for both the children and their families. The focus group feedback sent a strong message that our hunch was correct and that this needs to be a priority in future planning. Here are just a few quotes that indicate a respite day center is a good idea:
“It’s really difficult to persevere, because no one can leave the house, because he cannot be left alone.”
“Taking care of my child every day is exhausting because he has to be cared for like a baby.”
“I cannot make any extra income because the child requires constant care.”
“Sometimes it is almost unbearable, because I cannot go outside to do anything. If I could go out it would be better, but I cannot leave the child alone.”
So, we’re taking that feedback really seriously and hopefully in the not-too-distant-future we’ll be able to share what steps we are taking to move in that direction.
Program Evaluation and Community Awareness
While our primary focus is on the children and their families, we are aware of the importance of having a positive impact on the communities in which they live. Indeed, this is a crucial part of empowering children with disabilities and their families because the possibilities open to them in the future are very much connected to how they are perceived by others around them.
Our focus groups provided some mixed reports about this. On the one hand, there were reports of discrimination and/or misunderstanding by community members: “Yes, there is discrimination by the neighbors, because my child has HIV. But the kids in the neighborhood all still play with each other.”; “No discrimination, but people talk about you and ask you why you want a disabled child.”
On the other hand, there were reports of more positive perceptions as well: “Some neighbors say good things, encourage us about taking good care of the child.”; “Some villagers know about child rights and say it is good to help each other.” Some of the feedback suggested that the presence of Children In Families in this community has already had some positive impact: “Most communities are not so positive, but our friends praise that we have a big heart to take care of a child not our own.”
All that means that we have work to do, but also have some amazing bright spots. I want to leave you with one quote to highlight the importance of our dedicated staff in what we do.
“We never give up, even when the roads are muddy and even when the families don’t listen to us.”