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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Research Highlights Need to Rethink Emergency Responses for Children in Humanitarian Settings

Humanitarian crises present major threats to children’s wellbeing, and for more than two decades Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) has been considered one of the best ways to respond. A study by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and World Vision looked at the impact of CFS in countries affected by humanitarian emergencies and found major differences across settings. This is the first study to evaluate whether existing interventions successfully provide a safe environment for children to engage in activities. Findings are in BioMed Central Public Health.

The research team worked with the Global Alliance for Child Protection to carry out a multi-country evaluation of CFS in humanitarian emergencies over four years. The study covered 23 Child Friendly Spaces and included Somali refugees in Ethiopia, South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, Syrian refugees in Iraq and Jordan, and children affected by an earthquake in Nepal.

Younger children who attended consistently showed greater improvements in psychosocial well-being than those who did not attend. When activities were implemented with quality, and well suited to local contexts, CFS was effective in reducing protection concerns and promoting development.

Dr. Alastair Ager, professor at Columbia Mailman School’s Department of Population and Family Health, and lead researcher, noted: “Younger children who attended CFS consistently showed major improvements in wellbeing compared to those not attending.” However, there was little evidence that the spaces had a positive impact on older children. “Engaging youth is recognized as challenging in humanitarian contexts, so future interventions need to be more explicitly shaped to their interests and circumstances,” noted Dr. Ager.

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