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The role of graduation programming in promoting early childhood development: an overview of the evidence

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Written by Carmen Leon-Himmelstine

Hero image description: A mother and child at a clinic in Bangladesh Image credit:Rama George-Alleyne / World Bank Image license:CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The so-called ‘graduation model approach’ underpins a relatively new wave of comprehensive social protection interventions that has gained considerable momentum in the past five to ten years. Graduation programmes may hold potential for improving early childhood development (ECD) in various ways. This article, published in the Journal of the British Academy, offers a comprehensive review of graduation programmes from across the Global South and their impacts on ECD outcomes.

The article supports the notion that graduation programmes have the potential to positively address ECD outcomes. This is evidenced by positive findings in areas of nutrition and health. However, the majority of positive effects pertain to intermediate indicators, such as food security, dietary diversity, immunisation and health-seeking behaviour in relation to children. Programme effectiveness is more ambiguous in terms of children’s outcomes in nutrition and health. No evidence, or very scant evidence, is available for the three other areas of safety and security, responsive caregiving and early learning. While a focus on children may not lie at the core of what graduation programmes aim to achieve – economic strengthening and poverty reduction at household level – long-term success of these interventions ultimately hinges on their ability to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

A mother and child at a clinic in Bangladesh
Keetie Roelen, Micah Sherer and Carmen Leon-Himmelstine