Data and Methods: The study used process evaluation, as this is most appropriate for newly implemented projects. A qualitative design was employed and data collection included extended time in the field, document analysis, focus groups, and individual interviews. Eleven individual interviews and eight focus groups were conducted. Purposive sampling was used to select the key informants such as families, children receiving alternative services, service providers, project employees, and stakeholders from relevant government agencies, local, and international organizations. Interviews and focus group transcripts and documents were uploaded into NVivo, and analyzed thematically based on the goals of the evaluation, and as well as inductively based on themes that emerged from participants.
Results: Four relevant themes emerged: 1) positive impact of alternative services on previously institutionalized children 2) positive impact of alternative services on parents from community 3) success in establishment of services 4) lack of political will. Alternative services had impact on the lives of the children placed in the small group home as they had an opportunity to attend a community school and develop age appropriate adaptive behavior skills. Parents, who used services of family counseling and training centers showed significant increase in their relationship with their children, partners and other family members that prevented institutionalization of children for some of them. However, the study found that despite positive results of newly created services, there was a lack of political will to establish a system of alternative care and address underlying causes as well as the lack of coordination of services. Despite that, the project experienced significant successes such as the establishment of a small group home, a family training and counseling center, and the framework for the delivery of foster care services.
Conclusions/Implications: Findings suggest several implications for Azerbaijan and countries of the region. First, alternative services are better for child development than institutions, and effective in preventing institutionalization. Second, it is possible to create alternative services if there is a strong push from civil society. Third, NGO’s can act as the pioneers as in the case of HWA and this project, but State authorities should be partners in the process assuming financial and administrative responsibility. Countries like Azerbaijan have the opportunity to utilize the expertise of child welfare experts across the globe to create a system which results in less reliance on residential care and an increase in keeping children within their families and communities.