Holding on to childhood in times of crisis

Every child has the right to feel safe, to learn and to play. In places affected by crisis or conflict — where those rights come under threat — World Vision's Child Friendly Spaces provide a safe place for some of the world's most vulnerable children.

Support World Vision's work in emergencies

One in four children live in places affected by conflict or disaster.

Around the world, we're working to be there when people need us most. We're serving the most vulnerable, providing urgent relief, and partnering to help survivors rise up even in what can feel like an impossible situation.    

In an emergency, the most immediate needs are the ones that quickly spring to mind: food, water, shelter and emergency health care, all things critical to survival. But there are less visible impacts for people caught up in emergencies. The social and psychological effects can be devastating for children and their families – particularly for those who experience war.

Child friendly spaces

In 2016, World Vision ran child friendly space programs in over 15 countries around the world where children’s lives have been disrupted and their rights threatened by conflict and natural disasters.

World Vision Child Friendly Spaces are designed to address children's specific needs in those situations, and to give them a chance to just be children again. They can be set up in schools, community centres, tents or even just an open space, and they're run by qualified local staff.

They provide young people with a safe place to play, participate in activities, access education and learn about their rights to health and protection. Trained professionals conduct psychosocial support to help children cope with their experiences – providing a positive environment, monitoring their behaviour and running a variety of activities that help them process emotions and re-establish positive social relationships.

The spaces are also important in keeping kids away from dangerous places and protecting them from exploitation and abuse – threats that can become more common in the midst or aftermath of an emergency. 

Child friendly spaces can be adapted to suit differing community needs, and link in with other emergency response programs to support outcomes like child protection, health, education or water, sanitation and hygiene. After the emergency is over, the spaces can continue to run as community centres. 

Child friendly spaces around the world – a snapshot


In 2015 and 2016, at the peak of migration along the Balkans Byway, World Vision provided psychosocial support and child protection services in partnership with UNICEF.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, 2,251 children received psychosocial support through World Vision’s Child Friendly Spaces.


Child friendly spaces have been hosting community events to raise awareness about child rights and protection issues such as gender-based violence, child labour and online safety.


Women and Young Child Centres established after the Nepal Earthquake helped to reach over 13,000 people with maternal and child health training sessions.


22 child friendly spaces have been supporting the psychosocial recovery of conflict-affected boys and girls.

South Sudan

Seven child friendly spaces have helped to provide emergency education and child protection services for over 11,000 children.

Top: More than half of those caught up in the Syrian conflict are children. Many have lost family members, their homes and witnessed or experienced violence. They are also missing out on essentials they need in order to grow – an education, interaction with other children and safe, solid homes to go back to.

Syria’s generation at risk

Some 8.4 million children – more than 80 percent of Syria’s child population – are affected by the conflict in Syria, now approaching its seventh year. Whether inside the country or as refugees in neighbouring countries, these displaced Syrian children face a whole range of challenges that threaten their rights – making them some of the most vulnerable children in the world.

During 2015, World Vision assisted more than 12,000 children in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq with child protection and education programs. In Lebanon, those services include not just child friendly spacesbut also early childhood education for ages three to six, digital hubs for computer learning, early childhood development classes for parents and outreach for children and families with psychosocial needs.





Jouri the storyteller

Jouri is an 11-year-old Syrian refugee girl who attends a World Vision Child-Friendly Space in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. She lives in an informal settlement with her mother, grandmother and four siblings – her father is missing in Syria.

Attending the child friendly space has helped Jouri become more emotionally resilient – and made it easier for her to return to school. When Jouri first came to the centre, she was very shy and kept mostly to herself. Then her teacher noticed that she could read well, and made Jouri the class storyteller – a position she takes very seriously. Jouri attends school in the mornings and the child friendly space each afternoon. She credits the centre for much of her success in school, where she’s just been named the top student in her class.

“Going to the space has made me a better student. Now I’m not so shy. I’m better able to answer questions and read aloud in class,” Jouri says. “Before the centre, I didn’t have courage, but now I do.”


World Vision is operating child friendly spaces in Lebanon, Iraq and several other countries in the region affected by ongoing conflict. Trained staff facilitate psychosocial support activities like singing, drawing and games and can refer children in need of further support to mental health services. Early childhood education and remedial schooling programs help refugee children work towards the goal of going to school. They also provide women like Nour (top right), who was a teacher in Syria, with opportunities to apply their skills to help others.

Making the grade for education

During 2015, less than a quarter of the 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon were enrolled in school. With Syrian schools destroyed, families fleeing, financial struggles, and overcrowded or unfamiliar schools in host countries, most children have had their education disrupted or have been forced to miss out. As months and years pass, they find it harder and harder to return.

Parents who are struggling with their own losses and frustrations find it difficult to navigate the education system and support their children to attend school. Not all parents understand their children’s need for psychological support, and some don’t see the connection between the program and the education they want their children to have.

“Some parents say their children don’t have time to play and draw – they have to work,” says Bassima, who supervises a child friendly space in Lebanon. When parents visit the centre, however, they see what their children do there and how happy they are."





World Vision humanitarian worker Patricia has seen enough war and conflict to last a lifetime. She grew up in Lebanon during the protracted civil war – and remembers her mother playing games to distract her from the fighting outside. Those childhood memories have helped her to understand the psychological impact the conflict has had on the lives of the Syrian refugee children she works with every day.

I tell them that I have heard what they have heard. I know what it is to hear the sound of war. To feel that fear. I tell them I understand what they have gone through, and I mean it.

Meeting mental health needs

If there’s any hope for a healthy future for children who’ve suffered loss and displacement because of the Syrian civil war, learning to identify, express and manage emotions is critical, says Alison Schafer, a World Vision specialist in mental health and psychosocial support. Psychosocial support is an approach that combines psychological assistance to help individuals process their experiences with creating positive social environments to interact with others. For people who have experienced potentially traumatic events, psychosocial support can help them to cope, heal and find hope for the future.

Staff and volunteers give the children opportunities to recognise and express feelings and to understand that feelings come and go. “We don’t ask about the things that trouble them,” says Bassima. “We are here to support and encourage them.”


360 Video: A child friendly space for Syrian refugees in Lebanon