International standards, currently being developed, define a CFS program as one that “supports the resilience and well-being of children and young people who have experienced disasters through community organized, structured activities conducted in a safe, child friendly, and stimulating environment” (Child Protection Working Group, 2012). Since its use in the 1999 Kosovo crisis, CFS programming to support the protection and psychosocial well-being of children is widespread (UNICEF, 2009). There is growing interest and adoption of CFSs as a prime intervention strategy as evidenced by its reference in a number of agency and inter-agency documents guiding humanitarian response (Global Protection Cluster, 2011; Kostelny, 2008; Madfis, Martyris, & Triplehorn, 2010; Save the Children, 2008, 2009; Save the Children Sweden, 2010; UNICEF, 2009; World Vision International, 2006).
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the frequent adoption of a CFS model in humanitarian emergencies. These include potential for rapid deployment, low relative costs, scalability and adaptability of activities to diverse contexts (UNICEF, 2009). The inherent flexibility of a CFS model, although originally intended for children aged 7 to 13, potentially accommodates children of all ages (Global Protection Cluster et al., 2011; UNICEF, 2009).
Guidance on CFSs generally suggests such interventions being of value with respect to three major objectives. First, CFSs are seen to serve as a protective mechanism, protecting children from abuse, exploitation or violence. Second, CFSs are considered as a means to provide psychosocial support to children, strengthening their emotional well-being, social well-being, and/or skills and knowledge (Ager et al., 2011a). Third, CFSs are seen as a key vehicle for mobilizing communities around the protection and well-being of children, and strengthening community protection mechanisms (Global Protection Cluster et al., 2011).
The evidence base for the outcomes and impact of CFSs is generally considered to be limited. As efforts are made to develop standards and international guidelines to support CFS work in emergencies, it is important to develop and consolidate evidence regarding the protective, promotive and mobilizing effects CFSs have on children and youth. As a global agency with a major commitment to child protection in emergencies, World Vision International has initiated a series of structured evaluations of CFS interventions. To ensure that these studies are fully informed by existing knowledge of CFS outcomes and impacts a structured review of the literature was commissioned.