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Principal Investigator: Kevin Savage, World Vision International

Research Snapshot: Do we need to rethink Child Friendly Spaces?

Study findings suggest a need for humanitarian actors to rethink the design and implementation of CFS; and continue to evaluate CFS within their overall approach to child protection in emergencies. Find out more in this research snapshot.

View the Snapshot

What did the study set out to achieve?

The overall objective of this research was to improve outcomes for children in humanitarian crises by strengthening the evidence base on the impact of Child Friendly Space interventions (CFS). Although CFS are already widely used, it is acknowledged that there is very little evidence to support their use. Research into CFS has therefore been identified as a matter of high priority. If significant lasting impact is found, there may be a case for increasing their widespread use in the immediate stages of a crisis.

The research successfully documented the longer-term outcomes and impacts of CFS in three locations – Uganda (Congolese refugees), Jordan (Syrian refugees), and Nepal (earthquake affected people). These longitudinal studies examined the trajectory of children’s mental health, well-being, protection and development as well as the sustained impact of CFS on strengthening formal and informal systems essential for children’s support and protection. Over 800 children and 400 caregivers were interviewed at baseline, endline and follow-up.

What were the key findings?

The study results imply that CFS can be an effective intervention, but the extent that is so depends significantly on contextual factors including the quality of programming. Innovation in how CFS is delivered is required for its impact to be sustained.

The short-term impacts of CFS programmes were often found to be more utilized by and more impactful for younger children (6-12 years), but less so for older children (13-16 years). The measured effect of CFS on caregivers’ stress, sense of protection for their children and awareness of support structures for their protection were mixed depending on study location. Indications of impact in these domains were identified in Uganda and Nepal, but there was little evidence in Jordan that CFS had an impact in reducing either perceived protection concerns or caregiver stresses.

All three studies indicated that most of the short-term effects attributable to CFS attendance dissipated in the longer-term. However, there was some evidence that attending CFS did insulate children from the impacts of worsening settlement conditions in Uganda.  In Nepal as well as Uganda, there was some evidence to suggest that CFS strengthened awareness of community-based mechanisms which assist in the protection of children, although significant barriers remained including the building of trust amongst children and ensuring access to key services.

What does this mean for policymakers and practitioners?

This research tells us:

  • Humanitarians need to use broad programming approaches for children, beyond CFS, to adequately address children’s protection and long term mental and psychosocial health needs
  • CFS interventions can have positive impact but are not always appropriate and must be adapted to the context when they are
  • Quality and adherence to existing standards is crucial for impact
  • Consistent attendance is important
  • There is still potential for increasing the positive impact of CFS
  • Engaging youth with CFS is challenging so interventions need to be explicitly shaped to their interests and circumstances
  • There is great potential for CFS to help children engage with organisations providing humanitarian assistance, and through this, better understand how they can report protection concerns.

The study team have developed a toolkit for monitoring and evaluating CFS (funded separately), along with 11 video clips and a video explanation of the Nepal research to explain key sections of the documents and give practical examples and advice. In-depth lessons learned, practical guidance and tools from the evaluation are available in a companion document which was prepared by the research team in close partnership with Save the Children. It is titled ‘Tools and guidance for monitoring and evaluating CFS’ and can be downloaded at this link.

The findings have led to a substantive and important change to the Child Protection Minimum Standards, updated in 2019.  However, given that the study found that CFS are not always implemented in line with established quality standards, monitoring and evaluation of interventions remains crucial.

The project led to a follow-on study, also funded by R2HC, and continues to inform the approach to child protection at World Vision International and beyond.

Play video


Impact Case Study Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, Research Uptake

Impact Case Study: Evaluating and improving child-friendly spaces in emergencies

Article Mental Health and Psychosocial Support, Refugees and IDPs

Resilience and adjustment trajectories amongst children in displacement-affected communities in Zarqa, Jordan

Briefing Note

Evaluation of Child Friendly Spaces in Emergencies: A Longitudinal Study of CFS Impact in Zarqa, Jordan

Briefing Note

Evaluation of Child Friendly Spaces in Emergencies: A Longitudinal Study of CFS Impact in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, Uganda


Technical Summary Report – Longer-term mental health, developmental and systems impacts of Child Friendly Space Interventions in humanitarian emergencies

Peer Reviewed

Short‐ and longer‐term impacts of Child Friendly Space Interventions in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, Uganda

Peer Reviewed Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Child friendly spaces impact across five humanitarian settings: a meta-analysis

Research Snapshot Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

Research Snapshot: Do we need to rethink Child Friendly Spaces?

Latest Updates

Research Impact Case Study Published

Jul 2023

This study was selected by the R2HC for our Impact Case Study series. The case study is now available to view online.


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Since 2008 I have been engaged in the development sector, primarily child protection, and my work has taken me across all of…


Nepal – Challenges of collecting data in a post-earthquake environment

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