Graduating students

Two CSDA and South African Research Chair in Welfare and Social Development students, Edwin Mtambanengwe and Jenita Chiba, have completed their PhD dissertations and have graduated!

“We congratulate both Edwin and Jenita! They have both worked very hard and we are pleased that they will be awarded their doctorates in the coming months,” says Prof Leila Patel.

In addition to graduating soon, both of them are working on articles that will be submitted to journals for publication in the coming months.

Edwin Mtambanengwe’s thesis was titled: A Comparative Implementation Evaluation of Child Protection Policies in Zimbabwe, South Africa and the United Kingdom: Towards Family and Community Strengthening Approaches.

He says: “While working on my thesis, there were moments of joy, excitement, loneliness, confusion and despair but in the end, tenacity became the driving force. I could not have completed my PhD if it was not for the networks and synergistic relationships that I built with others – colleagues, students, workmates, family and friends!”

His study evaluated the implementation of child protection policy and family strengthening approaches, which are being used as strategies to effectively address the challenge of child abuse and neglect (CAN) in countries with different approaches and levels of social, economic and welfare systems development. Zimbabwe prioritises family strengthening and community-based interventions while South Africa and the United Kingdom have statutory child protection approaches as dominant modes of intervention.

Of the experience, he says: “I realised earlier on in my quest to do a PhD, that this would be a process where I would constantly be making decisions and that the quality of my decisions rested upon my internal motivation and resilience. While the lure to focus on extraneous things was always present, coupled with life circumstances (work, family, health etc), the thesis provided a perpetual reminder that I needed to maintain momentum, make sacrifices and always keep the end in mind in order to succeed. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was a curveball, which took faith and unquestioning belief for me to maintain focus and make progress.”

The findings from his research highlight that, although all three countries are attempting to effectively respond to CAN by more or less prioritising similar implementation aspects, there are significant differences and nuances in their approaches and that country specific conditions influence the success of policy implementation. At the practitioner level, the study found that, first, staff selection and recruitment are crucial in ensuring that organisations have appropriate personnel who are qualified, experienced and skilled to deliver interventions. Key findings at organisational level indicated that service users, partner agencies, frontline practitioners and supervisors/line managers are not adequately involved in knowledge and information exchange with decision makers in the organisations.

Findings on contextual factors highlighted that, although external influences and structural factors are attributed to CAN, interventions continue to frame CAN as flaws within the family and community. However, resource shortages impact service delivery in particular, early help, preventative family strengthening interventions and staff support. Further, government ideologies, a lack of political will and inadequate state support impact service delivery.

Lastly, the Covid-19 pandemic increased the demand for services and negatively impacted social service systems. The pandemic had a similar impact on staff and service users. Agency adaptation varied across countries and was much slower in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The study concludes by making key recommendations in relation to legislation and policy, practice, and further research directions.

When reflecting on his PhD he said: “I learnt that a PhD is an enlightening and insightful process where I had to concomitantly learn about specific subjects in depth, as well as extensively learn more about myself! I also learnt that the sense of fulfilment only follows after an intriguing, rigorous and exceptionally challenging journey where you need to be adaptable, self-driven, resilient and exceptional across different areas of life.”

He touched on the importance of a supportive supervisor and expressed his gratitude to Prof Patel: “I learnt that having a supervisor who has your best interests at heart; one who is able to challenge you, yet keeping you motivated and supported, is crucial to your PhD completion. I was fortunate and truly blessed to have such a dynamic, experienced and highly effective supervisor in Prof Leila Patel.”

 

Jenita Chiba’s thesis was titled An Evaluation of a Pilot Family- and Community-Based Intervention. Her study sought to evaluate a pilot family- and community-based intervention offered to CSG families to address the psychosocial and parenting challenges that may be experienced by caregivers. The research question which guided the study was “Does the pilot family- and community-based intervention improve child well-being in CSG families? A related question was: What are the implementation challenges of the pilot programme?

She says: “The study findings indicate that CSG families were perceived to have benefited positively from the intervention. This included positive changes in household rules and routines, psychosocial support from Sihleng’imizi buddies, less harsh discipline practices with children and an improved knowledge of budgeting and saving of money. I’m also pleased that the feasibility and fidelity of the intervention has provided evidence of the potential to scale up ‘cash plus’ family interventions in the South African context.”

The study also provides pointers for key implications for social policy and social work practice. This includes a framework for integrating social welfare programmes and social protection policies located within the developmental approach. In addition, the Sihleng’imizi family intervention paves a way forward for the design of ‘cash plus’ programmes in South Africa. For social work practice, this study highlights ways in which evidence-based developmental social work practice can be implemented and innovative strategies designed to work with families in a community setting.

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