Impacts of social protection programmes on children (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 13811)



What is the evidence regarding positive and negative impacts of social protection programmes on children, and more specifically, the conditions and processes that cause these outcomes? What does the literature suggest as key guiding considerations and approaches to maximise positive impacts.


The impact of social protection on children is under-researched. Key findings and insights from the existing literature include:

  • Household and community poverty and economic inequality are key risk factors affecting children’s wellbeing and child protection (Peterman et al., forthcoming; de Hoop and Rosati, 2014; UNICEF, 2012, 2015; expert comments). For example, evidence indicates that child labour is driven largely by household vulnerability, associated with poverty and risks (De Hoop and Rosati, 2014; Sanfilippo et al., 2012; ILO, 2013).
  • Social protection systems which address multi-sectors (multidimensionality) have shown positive impacts for addressing economic and human development, multiple vulnerabilities, and both social and economic inequities (UNICEF, 2012; Tafere and Woldehanna, 2012; Sanfilippo et al., 2012; ILO, 2013; Adato et al., 2016).
  • Child-sensitive social protection programmes implies that programmes are more intentionally responsive to and address children’s rights and vulnerabilities, addressing the range of dimensions of children’s wellbeing (UNICEF, 2012). It does not mean however programmes are necessarily child-exclusive (i.e., targeted).
  • Impacts of social protection can operate through multiple channels, namely: direct effects, attributed directly to the programme, and indirect effects, changes associated more broadly with poverty reduction. Implementation also affects impact, e.g. agency capacity, synergies and coordination of services, and wider factors (e.g. the political economy (and political will), fiscal space, cultural views and practices) (Barrientos et al., 2013, 2014; Jones and Holmes, 2010).
  • Social protection and child protection (e.g. combatting abuse and violence) should not be viewed as two separate sectors – social protection has great potential to decrease risks for children (KVC, 26 May 2016 website, see below; Transfer Project website, see below). Evidence on non-contributory social protection programme impacts on violence and abuse against children cautiously indicates positive protective impacts, notably on sexual violence against female adolescents (Peterman et al. forthcoming).
  • Social transfers can contribute to reducing negative sexual behaviours and HIV prevention, particularly in combination with effective enabling factors (e.g. health-care services). This is by addressing underlying causes of risks – these are the structural social and economic drivers of adverse behaviours, e.g. early sexual debut, unprotected sex, dependence on men for economic security, migration for economic reasons, transactional sex (UNICEF-ESARO/Transfer Project, 2015).


Pozarny, P. Impacts of social protection programmes on children (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 13811). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2016) 20 pp.

Impacts of social protection programmes on children (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 13811)

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