What is a child-friendly space?

A child-friendly space (CFS) is an environment designed to help children feel safe, calm, and comfortable while they are interacting with practitioners. A child-friendly space should be:

Healthy by promoting children’s psychological and physical well-being. Well-being is a combination of feeling positive and functioning well. Promoting the well-being of children is the ultimate goal of child-friendly spaces.

Accepting by being welcoming, non-discriminatory, and non-judgmental. A child-friendly space must not exclude or marginalize any child based on their personal characteristics. Practitioners should be sensitive to the diversity of children they may encounter (including differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, national origin, language, disability, sexual identity, gender identity and expression, and socio-economic status).

Protective by offering a secure physical location and an emotionally safe place for children to interact with practitioners who are trained in child protection. This also involves strengthening local mechanisms for the support, protection, and care of children (such as engaging with parents, mobilizing other community resources, and raising awareness about children’s rights).

Participatory by recognizing that children have the right to participate and must be provided with opportunities to voice opinions about decisions that affect them. Children’s views should be given due weight according to their age and stages of their development.

Youth-Inclusive by ensuring that both younger children and older children/adolescents are considered in all aspects of the space. Older children/adolescents may feel excluded if a physical space is set up and designed with only younger children in mind (for example, in the artwork used, the size of furniture, the activities available). Youth-inclusive means recognizing that a child is anyone under the age of 18 and that children and adolescents have different needs at different ages and stages of development.

Who is a child-friendly space for?

While child-friendly spaces can be used by all children and adolescents (anyone under age 18), they are commonly used in working with vulnerable children, as well as those who have experienced trauma. Child-friendly spaces originated in emergency and humanitarian settings as a means to provide children whose lives have been disrupted by conflict, disaster, or other emergencies with opportunities to engage in learning and developmental activities in a safe and stimulating environment (sometimes referred to as a “safe space”). They have also been used in working with child victims of abuse and violence, and, increasingly, are being used to provide assistance and support to child trafficking victims.

Where are child-friendly spaces located?

Child-friendly spaces are typically in locations where practitioners interact with children in the course of their professional work. Practitioners working in child-friendly spaces may include advocates, aid workers, child protection specialists, counselors, forensic interviewers, healthcare professionals, job counselors, law enforcement, lawyers, paralegals, psychologists, researchers, school administrators, shelter staff, social assistants, social workers, teachers, therapists, and vocational trainers, among others. Practitioners may work for the government, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations. Which practitioners are present in a child-friendly space will depend on the nature of the space and the work being done.

In emergency and humanitarian settings, child-friendly spaces are often located in camps for refugees or those who are displaced. They may also be found in drop-in centers and other facilities supporting migrants and their children or unaccompanied youth. Child-friendly spaces are found in social work and child protection institutions, healthcare facilities, educational facilities, police stations, prosecutor offices, and courts.

A child-friendly space may comprise an entire facility. For example, a Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is a specific type of child-friendly space that utilizes a Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) approach, which pulls together law enforcement, criminal justice, child protective services, and medical and mental health workers onto one coordinated team in one location to provide a safe, comfortable and neutral place where forensic interviews and other services can be appropriately provided for child victims and their families. In other models, child-friendly spaces are a separate room, or even just a corner of a room.

What is childfriendlyspaces.com?

This website provides links to open-access materials that may be useful in the development, improvement, and maintenance of a child-friendly space, specifically in the context of child trafficking cases.

How can I develop a child-friendly space?

Creating this environment requires a multidisciplinary approach and recognition that a child-friendly space is about more than just the physical space. In many contexts, a child-friendly space will need to be developed within specific parameters (including the available resources, existing legal and protection frameworks, focus of the space, and so on) and will therefore need a tailored approach.

The Warnath Group offers professional education and advisory services in the development of child-friendly spaces, in the form of research and resources, in-person and virtual training, and technical assistance from design to implementation. We have worked in diverse settings to successfully develop child-friendly spaces for child trafficking victims. This includes the facilitation of frontline working groups and multidisciplinary teams and providing training and technical assistance for practitioners to put protocols and practices into action.

We encourage you to contact us with questions or to learn more about our peer-to-peer professional anti-trafficking training and technical assistance packages.