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Does International Child Sponsorship Work? Study Claims Answer

Examination of Compassion International programs in six nations finds 'statistically significant' impact–especially in Africa.

Sending $38 each month to sponsor a foreign child–a practice made popular by Compassion International–has some fresh evidence on its side. A new report from researchers at the University of San Francisco reveals that sponsored children are more likely to graduate both secondary school and college, have salaried employment, and be leaders in their communities.

The study, which will be published next month in the University of Chicago's Journal of Political Economy, examined 10,144 people in six countries that host Compassion sponsorship programs–Bolivia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Uganda, and the Philippines. (Compassion works in 26 nations in total.)

In those countries, the authors stated, "child sponsorship also appears to be a great 'equalizer,'" helping raise overall baseline education outcomes for boys and girls alike. According to the report:

"[Sponsorship's] impacts on the educational outcomes are larger in those countries with lower baseline education outcomes, the two African countries, while impacts in Latin America and Asia are smaller, although still statistically significant. Similarly, in countries where baseline schooling is higher for boys, child sponsorship tends to have a bigger impact on girls; where it is higher for girls, it has a bigger impact on boys."

But the authors specify that not all child sponsorship programs are created equal: Their analysis looks only at outcomes for Compassion, which funnels money more directly from sponsor to child. According to Compassion USA communications director Tim Glenn, sponsorship dollars fund local churches that put on programs for the children. Compassion also allows sponsors to contribute additional financial gifts directly to their children.

Programs from other organizations–including World Vision, Plan USA, and Save the Children–that "use funding given in the name of a sponsored child more broadly to create village-level public goods" are "less-targeted nature" and "more difficult to assess," the study stated.

In 1998, CT reported how some child sponsorship programs were falling short. In June, CT will offer in-depth commentary on child sponsorship and feature study author Bruce Wydick, who previously ranked child sponsorship as the fourth most-effective way to fight poverty.

Last week, CT reported that Compassion had selected Jim Mellado to succeed Wess Stafford as president later this year. Stafford previously shared the story of his childhood abuse as a missionary child in a CT cover story.

CT also has written about the best ways to fight poverty, and featured World Vision USA president Richard Stearns' response.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify the nature of Compassion's sponsorship programs.

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