Could cash and good parenting affect child cognitive development? A cross-sectional study in South Africa and Malawi

Lorraine Sherr, Ana Macedo, Mark Tomlinson, Sarah Skeen, and Lucie Dale Cluver - BMC Pediatrics


Background: Social protection interventions, including cash grants and care provision have been shown to effectively reduce some negative impacts of the HIV epidemic on adolescents and families. Less is known about the role of social protection on younger HIV affected populations. This study explored the impact of cash grants on children’s cognitive development. Additionally, we examined whether combined cash and care (operationalised as good parenting) was associated with improved cognitive outcomes.

Methods: The sample included 854 children, aged 5 – 15, participating in community-based organisation (CBO) programmes for children affected by HIV in South Africa and Malawi. Data on child cognitive functioning were gathered by a combination of caregiver report and observer administered tests. Primary caregivers also reported on the economic situation of the family, cash receipt into the home, child and household HIV status. Parenting was measured on a 10 item scale with good parenting defined as a score of 8 or above.

Results: About half of families received cash (55%, n = 473), only 6% (n = 51) reported good parenting above the cut-off point but no cash, 18% (n = 151) received combined cash support and reported good parenting, and 21% (n = 179) had neither. Findings show that cash receipt was associated with enhanced child cognitive outcomes in a number of domains including verbal working memory, general cognitive functioning, and learning. Furthermore, cash plus good parenting provided an additive effect. Child HIV status had a moderating effect on the association between cash or/ plus good parenting and cognitive outcomes. The association between cash and good parenting and child cognitive outcomes remained significant among both HIV positive and negative children, but overall the HIV negative group benefited more.

Conclusions: This study shows the importance of cash transfers and good parenting on cognitive development of young children living in HIV affected environments. Our data clearly indicate that combined provision (cash plus good parenting) have added value.