Approaching Capabilities with Children in Care

The research took place 2009–2012 in cooperation with and under the supervision of Clemens Sedmak and consisted of four parts: In the first phase, a specific research design for the SOS Children’s Villages settings was developed based on central claims of the Capabilities Approach.  In a second step, two field studies were carried out in Namibia and Nicaragua in order to test the operationalization and to generate primary data (this field work was carried out in cooperation with local universities and was based on interviews with children as well as with educators). In the third phase, a systematic analysis of the findings into a theory framework took place. And finally, the findings were translated for the programme policy level of SOS Children’s Villages. The final paper “Creating Co-Capabilities” – written by Sedmak and based on both the 2009–12 research and on several other related publications from 2011–13 – was finalized in May 2013.

In total 177 children from Nicaragua and Namibia – either living in out-of-home care (SOS Children‘s Village or others), beneficiaries of a family strengthening programme, and also children not involved with the program (living with their biological families) – took part in the study. Data was analysed according to five deductively defined main categories: (1) visions developed by/for the children and youths; (2) subjective values (including educational/career aspirations); (3) subjective assessment of chances to realise their vision; (4) subjective assessment of currently received services; and (5) subjectively perceived need for additional support.

The research produced insights into the following:

  • The relevance of the CA for the situation of children in general and children in foster care in particular
  • The possibility to operationalize the CA in working with children
  • The possibility to adapt and refine the CA towards a debate of “key capabilities” and “transformative capabilities”
  • The relevance of the CA as a fundamental theory for an international NGO specializing in providing foster care for children
  • The relevance of the CA as a planning tool for an international NGO
  • The relevance of the CA as an evaluative tool
  • The development of the CA into a wider theory of social transformation

As a result of these outcomes, the research project, which was initially designed and implemented as a pilot study, currently is the basis for subsequent applications across the SOS Children’s Villages globally.

Among others, the following publications originated from the project:

C. Sedmak/B. Babic/C. Posch/R. Bauer (eds.), Der Capability-Approach in sozialwissenschaftlichen Kontexten. Überlegungen zur Anschlussfähigkeit eines entwicklungspolitischen Konzepts (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften 2011).

C. Sedmak/G. Graf/E. Kapferer (eds.), Der Capability Approach und seine Anwendung. Fähigkeiten von Kindern und Jugendlichen erkennen und fördern (Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2013).

G. Graf, Realizing the Life Chances of Children – an Application of the Capability Approach, in: Hawa, Bilal; Weidtmann, Niels (eds.), with a Preface by Martha Nussbaum: The Capability Approach on Social Order, LIT: Münster 2012.

G. Graf/B. Babic/ O. Germes Castro, Approaching Capabilities with Children in Care – An International Project to Identify Values of Children and Young People in Care, in: Leßmann, Ortrud et al. (eds.): Closing the Capability Gap – Renegotiating Social Justice for the Young. Barbara Budrich: Opladen 2011, 267–276.

G. Graf/B. Babic/ O. Germes Castro, The Capability Approach as a Framework for the Evaluation of Child and Youth Care, in: European Journal of Social Work, Vol. 13, No. 3, September 2010, 409–413.