Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Child-Centered Spaces are Beneficial to Young Children Affected by War in Northern Uganda

A widely used approach to aid children and their families in emergencies is the implementation of child-centered spaces (CCSs), which are physical spaces providing structured activities and support for children and their caregivers in emergencies. Despite the prevalence of CCSs, there has been little systematic research to assess their impact. Kostelny and Wessell’s (2008) evaluation of safe spaces in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in northern Ugandan is the first of its kind. The study uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to determine if CCSs protect young children (3-6) from risks and threats in their environment, improve children’s psychosocial well-being, and increase children’s knowledge and life-skills levels. Qualitative data were collected from focus group discussions with 92 caregivers and community members. Qualitative data informed development of a tool based on locally-derived indicators of child well-being in the northern Uganda context. Using the locally derived indicators and a Western developed screening tool for emotional and behavioral difficulties, quantitative data were collected from interviews with caregivers. The study randomly selected 176 caregivers of children attending CCS program and 118 caregivers randomly selected from a nearby IDP camp where there were no CCS services available. Significant benefits for children in the CCSs occurred within the domains of protection, psychosocial well-being, and life skills. The authors conclude that if positive effects can occur in as challenging an environment as northern Uganda, then the implementation of CCSs might have similar positive effects in other difficult settings.

This study uses locally appropriate measures to bypass questions of validity inherent in Western measures’ application to non-Western settings. Furthermore, the study focuses on outcomes versus process indicators, which rarely describe the actual benefits of a program in regards to child development, protection, and well-being. Nevertheless, the authors recognize limitations to their study. First, intervention and control groups weren’t systematically matched. Secondly, because the data rely on self-reports, the study may have experienced self-preservation bias with the intervention group reporting more favorable outcomes. Lastly, the external validity of the findings should be considered with caution, since this evaluation only addresses one specific context. In order to gain support that child-centered spaces are beneficial for children in crisis settings, more research must be conducted in other contexts.

Kostelny, K. and Wessells, M. (2008). The protection and psychosocial well-being of young children following armed conflict: outcome research on child-centered spaces in northern Uganda. The Journal of Developmental Processes, 3(2), 13-25.

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