Compassion Scams: Do Child Sponsorship Programs Work? by Kristen Castillo

University of San Francisco study explores if Compassion is really fostering a future generation of leaders?

Flicking through television channels late at night, we have probably all at some point found a small child with an extended stomach asking you to sponsor a child. But does it help?

By Kristen Castillo • Media Planet

urlYou’ve seen ads encouraging you to financially sponsor a child in a poor country. But does sponsorship work?

“Yes,” says Bruce Wydick, professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, who studied the long-term impacts on sponsored children. Wydick and his study co-authors Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota Paul Glewwe and lead field researcher and doctoral student Laine Rutledge, found that sponsorship does help children break the cycle of poverty.

Sponsorship impact

“Sponsored children complete one to one and a half years more schooling than non-sponsored children,” says Wydick, noting sponsored children are more likely to become community leaders and church leaders as adults. Wydick’s study looked exclusively at Compassion International’s sponsorships in six countries – two in Latin America, two in Asia and two in Africa, comparing data on sponsored individuals and their unsponsored peers.

“With sponsored children, we find the children have higher aspiration levels in terms of education and employment,” says Wydick. For example, there’s a 35 percent increase in a sponsored child growing up to have a white-collar job, such as a nurse or a teacher.

Best practices

Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 5.27.01 PMSponsorship programs that focus on the development of children work well. “What adolescents need more than anything is to feel they can master something,” says Dick Roberts, Chairman of the Sally & Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation, who coordinated after-school programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District before retiring in 2007.

Roberts says “peer to peer programs,” where youth learn about important matters such as substance abuse, HIV, teen pregnancy and other issues that they face, are successful. “Learning something that has an impact on their lives and then sharing that knowledge helps build life skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, and effective communication.”

Youth projects provide adolescents with a “pyramid of support,” from caring adults to their peers, says Roberts. “It really gives kids in slums and poor villages a chance,” he says.

Investing in youth

Investing in at-risk youth around the globe is also a priority for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “To the extent we can reduce violence in other countries, we can reduce violence in the U.S.,” says Mark Feierstein, USAID’s assistant administrator. USAID’s focus is strengthening education for at-risk youth. “If you can provide youth with positive alternatives, education and jobs, they’re less likely to engage in crime.”

Bruce Wydick, PhD professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco.
Bruce Wydick, PhD, professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco.

Sponsored children tend to have higher self esteem and hope for the future.  Dr. Bruce Wydick, a professor of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, set out to explore if child sponsorship really works. After interviewing more than 1,800 formerly sponsored Compassion children, he found that:

  • Children in Compassion’s programs are much more likely to stay in school longer.
  • As adults, formerly sponsored children are more likely to hold steady jobs and overcome poverty.
  • They are also more likely to become leaders in their communities and churches!

Read the entire report here

See also:

Leadership Integrity: An Interview with Compassion International President Wess Stafford

Rebuilding Haiti One Child at a Time

Buried in Haiti rubble: 64 Hours of Unshaken Faith