When emergencies occur, children are often the most vulnerable to injury, exploitation, abuse and other dangers. Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) use a Child Rights programming approach to mobilise communities to provide safe spaces and create protective environments for children affected by natural disasters or armed conflict. CFS provide children with a safe environment where integrated programming can include play, recreation, education, health, and psychosocial support, as well as providing information about other support services available to children. Child-Friendly Spaces offer children a safe place to play and the reestablishment of routine and structure can support children in dealing with the difficult experiences they have been through.
To read about a child friendly space in action, click the picture below:
- CFS are secure and ‘safe’ environments for children
- CFS provide a stimulating and supportive environment for children
- CFS are built on existing structures and capacities within a community
- CFS use a fully participatory approach for the design and implementation
- CFS provide/support integrated services and programmes
- CFS are inclusive and non-discriminatory
When should we use a CFS?
- CFS are most effective as a short-medium term response, often started in the early stages of an emergency
- When children face additional protection risks and need psychosocial support following an emergency
- When there is a lack of activities and safe places for children to spend their time
- To identify children in need of extra support and make referrals
- CFS should not compete with formal schools, but rather complement them
- CFS may not be appropriate if they could be places where children are attacked or recruited by armed forces or groups, or where children may be at risk of sexual harassment or abuse on the way to and from the CFS
Resources needed to implement a CFS:
- Volunteers willing to work with children on a regular basis
- Safe space (an existing building or a tent) which can be used regularly for the CFS
- Programme materials – e.g. toys, games, art and craft materials
- Funding for refreshments/snacks
How to set up a CFS
- The CFS should be set up based on information found in your needs assessment and developed in partnership with the community
- Decide on the location and prepare a budget – use locally available toys and materials if possible
- Develop the CFS schedule and activity plan – CFS can include education, life skills, literacy, arts, culture and environment, play, recreation and sports, and sometimes religious and spiritual activities. The selection of activities should be based on the needs and capacities of the community and developed in collaboration with community members and children
- Children need the opportunity to use five types of play – creative, imaginative, physical, communicative, and manipulative. Typical CFS activities include games, sports, expressive/creative activities, life skills educational activities, and other activities that promote child development/psychosocial wellbeing and coping skills.
- Plan for different sessions with different age-groups of children, and ensure that you have enough staff or volunteers for the numbers of children who will attend:
- Age under 2: Should not be attending without an adult caregiver
- Age 2-4: 15 children to at least two adult caregivers
- Age 5-9: 20 children to two adult caregivers
- Age 10-12: 25 children to two adult caregivers
- Age 13-18: 30 children to two adult caregivers
- Use age-appropriate programming according the the needs of children (find more detailed ideas for age appropriate activities here)
Sample CFS schedule
- It is important for CFS to ensure that they identify and include the most vulnerable children, taking stock of which children are not accessing the CFS and taking steps to include them
- CFS must be places that uphold gender equity at all times – sometimes this might mean segregated activities, depending on the cultural background and customs of the children.
- CFS should ensure that all children with disabilities have a full experience in conditions that ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate their active participation in the community. Efforts should be made to promote the inclusion and participation of children with disabilities and to assist in accessing services, rehabilitation and healthcare etc. Activities should be adapted for children with disabilities where possible.
Everyone who works in a CFS should receive initial training, as part of an ongoing process to build capacity that includes training as well as coaching. Training should include child protection and facilitating play for all, as well as psychological first aid.
The psychosocial wellbeing of parents is important for children’s care and protection. Parent support group sessions can also be scheduled in CFSs.
Monitoring and evaluation
Before beginning the CFS, develop indicators relevant to the protection and other concerns the CFS is seeking to address.
- number of CFS established/operating
- number of children attending
- number of facilitators trained
- number of youth participating in community projects
Outputs can be measured by e.g. attendance and registration sheets, activity schedules, training evaluations
- Quality of activities and programme
- Changes or effects on skills, knowledge, emotional, social or protective wellbeing
Outcomes can be measured by comparing baseline surveys of e.g. protection and psychosocial wellbeing, or community attitudes with later repeated surveys, and through ongoing community participation in monitoring and evaluation.
Additional tools and guidelines
The material on this page draws from these key documents:
- Unicef, Child Friendly Spaces: A practical guide (2009)
- CPWG, Child Protection Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Action (2019)
- Save the Children, Child Friendly Spaces in Emergencies: A handbook for Save the Children Staff (2008)
A list of further tools and resources on setting up and running a child friendly space can be found here.