A Sustainable, Contextualized Approach to Developing Zimbabwe’s National Case Management System

From 2012 to 2018, the Bantwana Initiative worked with and supported the Government of Zimbabwe and funders to design, pilot, and scale up the National Case Management System (NCMS) for the Welfare and Protection of Children. The NCMS has been in operation for more than 10 years, weathering multiple political and economic challenges and meeting the needs of thousands of vulnerable children and families.

We examined the success of this collaboration through the lens of the Critical Shifts for Reimagining Technical Assistance (RTA). The RTA vision outlines nine critical shifts that highlight the need to change how we:

  • Set the agenda, fund, and partner.
  • Plan, design, and implement programs.
  • Address inequity and manage power asymmetries.

This exercise revealed key success factors and learning that can be applied to similar initiatives.

How we set the agenda, fund, and partner

Bantwana’s teams typically work with governments and funders to align programs with country priorities. To develop the NCMS, we worked as a trusted intermediary that understood the government’s vision and the funders’ systems. The Government of Zimbabwe wanted a centralized system that delivered holistic services and met community needs. With support from USAID and UNICEF, Bantwana worked with the Department of Social Development (DSD) to design the case management system and professional development curriculum and tools to train DSD staff to implement it.

There was a smooth transition from design and conceptualization, piloting, implementation in 10 districts, and scale-up to 47 and then 65 districts. This was possible largely because Bantwana and the DSD team jointly developed programmatic innovations that the funder encouraged.

“This approach was in contrast to the prevailing mindset that the government cannot build the system, only implementing partners can.” Ms. Precious Muwoni, former child protection specialist, Bantwana Zimbabwe

We also prioritized strengthening government structures and facilitated coordination between government and community actors, which the government continues to build on.

How we plan, design, and implement programs

Bantwana’s technical assistance approach to developing case management systems prioritizes children, enhances government leadership, works within government structures, and provides holistic services through an effective referral and tracking system.

“Bantwana’s approach was seen as a welcome contrast to the piecemeal, welfare-istic support that was more typically being provided then.” Mr. Tawanda Zimhunga, acting director, DSD

Adapting the South African Isibindi model to the Zimbabwe context, we worked with the DSD to streamline community structures such as child protection committees (CPCs), and trained a new community childcare worker (CCW) cadre linked to the DSD. We provided technical assistance to the DSD for supervising and supporting the CCWs and CPCs. The CCWs availed their knowledge and relationships to handle and resolve child welfare cases. The streamlined and rejuvenated CPCs monitored child protection issues in communities and supported referral tracking and completion. After rollout of the NCMS in their districts, DSD social workers noted a 10-fold increase in cases handled each month.

We involved implementing partners to prevent uncoordinated initiatives and ensure that all organizations working on child protection in Zimbabwe understood the government’s vision for the NCMS. The government shared learning from the process, which helped other organizations fund and support NCMS activities. All parties involved kept politics aside and focused solely on the wellbeing of children, which established trust and complementarity of purpose. These efforts created sustainable investments and long-term change.

How we address inequity and manage power asymmetries

The CCWs and CPCs were at the center of the case management model to ensure that communities had first responders. As opposed to a top-down approach, we encouraged collective learning and feedback across multiple levels, engaging social workers and CCWs in discussions to identify solutions collaboratively.

“Being a collective process made it possible to accept mistakes, and end users became part of the solution.” Ms. Noriko Izumi, child protection chief of section, UNICEF

A transport voucher system facilitated timely access to critical protection, medical, justice, and psychosocial services for over 3,000 individuals who lacked money for transport. We also piloted community and school early warning systems to identify and address gender-based violence.

How this makes a difference

Our assessment of the NCMS creation and implementation showed that Bantwana, UNICEF, USAID, and the Government of Zimbabwe aligned with DSD leadership, using a contextualized approach that built sustainability from the outset. This approach mitigated systemic fault lines in the delivery of child protection services and kept the focus on solving a clearly articulated problem.

Since 2012, the DSD has held itself accountable for continuing the NCMS, which reaches hundreds of thousands of children with critical child protection services each year, responding to cases that included sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, neglect, and economic exploitation.

“We have ensured that this [the NCMS] is not a project or program, but a government system. Most districts are now getting direct funding from the Treasury as the government is desirous of ensuring funding is available. And all donors who intend to support child protection in Zimbabwe must use the case management system, which is coordinated by the DSD.” Mr. Zimhunga

What we learned

Because the critical shifts for RTA are based on learning and adapting, we also reflected on key lessons that arose throughout implementation.

First, beyond funding levels and commitment, sufficient time and flexibility are key to achieving significant and sustained results. In particular, it is important to have the flexibility to adapt to changes in the environment and leverage new opportunities. Secondly, staff attrition can disrupt lateral learning, and we found it was necessary to build a framework that could continue moving the work forward despite turnover. Lastly, rapid scale up can compromise standardization and program fidelity, so a slower paced and more streamlined implementation is key for sustained benefits.

We encourage others to use the critical shifts framework and benchmarking tools to reflect on and learn from existing work and advance how we work together to achieve better outcomes. To learn more about the NCMS, read the case study.