Shelter programmes: Integrating child protection


Vulnerability for children can increase during and after disasters, when children may be living with new, reduced or altered family units, or alone. Quality shelter can contribute to psychosocial wellbeing and a more stable family and community life.

Standard: All children and their caregivers have appropriate shelter that meets their basic needs, including safety, protection and accessibility. (CPMS, 2019)

Download a printable risk assessment summarising these guidelines


  • Work with child protection actors to identify adequate collective spaces for children, including spaces for education, recreation and child friendly spaces
  • Work with child protection actors to develop referral systems

Keep children safe and avoid causing harm

Understand the context

  • Which child protection issues are affecting children in the community?
  • Be aware of existing land and property tenure arrangements, including statutory/legislative and customary access rights to land

Reduce risks of harm within projects

  • Ensure that the proposed locations for shelter are as free as possible from threats to safety (e.g. from flooding, natural disaster, attacks)
  • Make sure that shelter locations are physically safe for children (e.g. no open water, holes in the ground, busy roads)
  • Ensure that there are safe and accessible routes to children’s services such as schools, child friendly spaces, WASH and healthcare facilities
  • Assess whether access to shelter is causing tension or conflict and consider assistance to host families and host communities
  • Avoid and monitor any exploitative labour, especially child labour on construction sites
  • Ensure those working in shelter have signed up to and been trained in a code of conduct or other policy which covers child safeguarding

Reduce risk of exacerbating existing protection risks 

  • Toilets and bathing facilities should be gender-specific, lockable, well-lit, and within easy walking distance of housing
  • Consider privacy in shelter design, and provide enough bedding and blankets to allow girls and boys to sleep separately
  • Take steps to prevent separation of children and families, and minimize risks of abuse, by respecting minimum space standards in shelters and providing adequate space for varying family sizes

Ensure children’s access to assistance 

  • Create safe play zones away from hazardous sites, including garbage dumps, roads and open wells
  • Ensure that there are safe spaces for children to play where family members can watch them from the shelter to avoid children playing in remote locations

Make sure the most at-risk children are accessing services

  • Ensure that the most vulnerable children and families are supported to access shelter and offered support in construction where needed. This may include:
    • child-headed households
    • children/adults with disabilities
    • single-parent families
    • elderly caregivers
  • Group together families, extended families and groups from similar backgrounds, to retain social bonds, so long as grouping people together does not cause stigma or unequal access to services
  • Monitor the living conditions of child-headed households and other vulnerable children

Adapt programming to remove barriers to access

  • If polygamy is practised, it is important to make sure that the adult women in all households are registered for assistance
  • Adapt shelter for children with disabilities e.g. by avoiding steps close to exits and providing handrails for stairways and ramps

Include feedback and participation

  • Involve women, children, youth and children with disabilities in the design and layout of camps and facilities
  • Information on children’s rights to safety and where they can seek support should be displayed in a child-friendly format in public spaces
  • Establish an accessible and confidential complaints and feedback mechanism

Respond effectively and appropriately to incidents of abuse

  • Ensure that there are accessible reporting mechanisms and that staff know how to refer any protection concerns around abuse, violence, exploitation or neglect of children
  • Any suspected cases of child labour, and of separated and vulnerable children, should be referred to the child protection focal point or social services

Strengthen systems and help children to claim their rights

  • Shelter staff should know how and where to refer children and families in need of other services (e.g. health, education, psychosocial support)

Monitor and evaluate

Include the safety of the affected population as a sub-objective of each shelter intervention, making appropriate changes or advocating with authorities for improved safety where risks are identified.

Sample objectives and indicators:

  • % of shelter workers who can demonstrate knowledge of referral mechanisms for unaccompanied and separated children, as well as for child survivors of abuse
  • % of constructed shelters that are an accessible distance from one or more spaces for children’s activities (e.g. school, CFS)

Key references, standards and guidelines

These guidelines are based on:

And additional guidelines and resources listed here

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