It was former American First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who famously said in the title of her first book, quoting an African saying, that “it takes a village to raise a child.” To extend the metaphor, said Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, “it takes a whole country, a whole nation to build the future.”
Speaking at the public presentation last Friday of the “first wave” of an envisioned three-phase process of assessing the impact of the 4Ps program, Soliman noted that the program, called “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” (Bridging Program for Filipino Families) “is the first time that the government has invested this big amount of money to protect and promote the rights and welfare of children.”
In other countries, the program is known as “conditional cash transfer,” the grant of state subsidies to the poorest families in exchange for certain socially desirable behaviors and outcomes: sending children to school and keeping them there, paying regular visits to government health centers for prenatal care and to keep childhood illness and malnutrition at bay, accessing birthing facilities during delivery, and preparing adults and older children for employment. In the Philippines, beneficiary families are required as well to take part in regular “family development” sessions, where participants discuss issues such as parenting, gender fairness, child rearing, household management, nutrition and basic health.
The 4Ps program is managed primarily by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, but it draws on the personnel and know-how of other agencies like the Department of Education, the Department of Health, and local government units. Funding, planning and assessing are taken care of with the help of “development partners” like the World Bank, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the Asian Development Bank.
But as Soliman reminds everyone: “It’s all our business, it’s everybody’s business.”
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“THIS has been a program that is much examined and is much discussed,” noted Soliman, acknowledging that “there have been a significant number of people who have been skeptical and critical about the program.” The criticisms, she said, range from its being a “dole out,” to reports of “leakages” of the grants (including beneficiary families who “pre-sell” their grants at a discount), and even to the program’s being used as “political tool.”
The first assessment should come to everyone—to both believers and skeptics—as a welcome development, then. For it provides an accurate “snapshot” of where the program is more than two years after it was established. It should also provide those charged with implementing the program a way to assess current directions and decide what steps to take to improve the results; or to veer away from certain policies and steps taken.
More than three million poor families with more than 6 million children are currently benefiting from the program. A total of 3,742 households in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Mountain Province, Negros Occidental and Occidental Mindoro took part in a survey conducted by the polling firm Social Weather Stations. From these families, 1,418 households eligible for the 4Ps were assessed in greater detail and provided the data on which the assessment was based.
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SO WHAT does the assessment say?
Generally, that four years after (4Ps was begun by the Arroyo administration, managed initially by former Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral), the program is “on track to achieve its objectives.”
On the education front, in barangays where 4Ps families live, 76 percent of preschoolers are enrolled in daycare, while 98 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are enrolled in school, and older children (age 6-14) also have higher school attendance than children from non-4Ps barangays. More effort must be expended, though, in keeping adolescents, especially teen boys, enrolled through high school, as they do have a tendency to drop out of school altogether.
As SWS head Mahar Mahangas noted during the forum, the matter of older children, especially boys, dropping out is a matter of “opportunity cost,” with families weighing the import of these young people finding work and earning income versus their remaining in school.
On the health front, 64 percent of mothers in 4Ps barangays accessed pre-natal care, while 85 percent of children in the same barangays (age 6-14) had undergone deworming. A total of 81 percent of children in 4Ps barangays (age 0-5) had also taken Vitamin A supplements. Junko Onishi, World Bank’s social protection specialist and a presenter at the public forum, also said that the 4Ps “has contributed to reduction in the severe stunting among poor children 6-36 months of age in 4Ps barangays.”
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ANOTHER reactor at the forum (your columnist was the other one), Rosemarie “Tootsie” Herrera of the NGO Healthdev Institute, commented on the need for better integration of services and cooperation with local governments, as well as to settle the question of “who will take responsibility for implementing the program” when the five-year prescription for the 4Ps expires by 2016. But then, she noted, “whoever said following the “Matuwid na Daan” was easy?”
The findings also highlighted the gap between socially-rewarding policies and personal or familial values. The “family development” sessions may try to focus on value-laden lessons that will, it is hoped, create parents with the “right” set of priorities. But between intent and practice is a long and twisting road, and not even the best-intentioned policies can transform people when they refuse to change, or find it’s not just worth their while.