Child-Friendly Spaces Ease Trauma in Emergencies

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A study by Columbia University and World Vision observes the impact of Child-Friendly Spaces as a coping center for refugee children facing extreme trauma.

Children in the Solomon Islands play in peace after losing their possessions in a tsunami. Ugandan and Congolese boys and girls study in relative calm after fleeing their war-ravaged homes. Syrian refugee children find a moment of quiet, far from shellings and fighting. 

These children — and others around the world — who regularly attend Child-Friendly Spaces in disaster zones are able to maintain a positive outlook on life, according to a study by Columbia University and World Vision.  

“This research seeks to ensure that our work is resulting in real and positive changes for children,” says Matthew Stephens, a World Vision child-protection specialist.

The study focused on Child-Friendly Spaces in western Uganda’s Rwamwanja refugee camp, where about 73 percent of children spent time at the spaces. 

The children at Rwamwanja, displaced due to conflict, receive education in math, local languages, English, the arts, organized sports, and free play at the Child-Friendly Spaces. Professional counselors help more vulnerable children deal with the situation and find a healthy routine. 

Participation at Child-Friendly Spaces helps children “remember what it’s like to be a child again after an emergency,” says Heather MacLeod, World Vision’s director of global humanitarian operations. “Children are the most vulnerable group during conflict and in the aftermath of a disaster … and we know the long-term impact of their exposure to traumatic events can be huge if not addressed.”

Parents whose children attend Child-Friendly Spaces were found to be under less stress and are better connected with community support and medical services. 

In 2013, World Vision’s Child-Friendly Spaces have helped displaced children recover from floods in Asia, an earthquake in Guatemala, and conflicts in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria.

Written by Chris Huber

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