Our mission is to protect and promote refugee, displaced and disadvantaged children's right to play, as set out in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts." Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We believe that every child should have access to a safe, happy, nurturing and stimulating place to play.
We aim to achieve our goal by:
enabling children in crises situations to play in safety by creating and operating Child Friendly Spaces that provide an holistic service, meeting the complex needs of refugee and displaced children
collaborating with partner organisations in a supportive role, and engaging in capacity building initiatives to promote and facilitate free and structured play; providing volunteers, resources, training and consultancy
educating parents and care givers of refugee, displaced and disadvantaged children in the importance of play
providing play equipment and play-based learning resources to organisations that support refugee, displaced and disadvantaged children.
Refugee Children's Centres is an independent non-governmental organisation founded in 2016. We are currently in the process of becoming a registered charity.
The organisation is run by a small Board of Trustees, a Board of Directors, and a team of Coordinators, Advisers and in-field Volunteers - all of whom work as unpaid volunteers.
We recognise the complex needs of refugee and displaced children so we are developing programmes that reflect an holistic approach to accessing play.
Our programmes include:
Therapeutic Play - Psychosocial Support
Play in Early Childhood Development
Play in Non-formal Education and Learning
Nutrition, Health & Hygiene
Sports, Games & Fitness
In Refugee Children’s Centres we value happiness and wellbeing, respect and freedom of self-expression; everything we do is based on this.
Happiness and wellbeing – to be able to smile, laugh and relax
Respect – for ourselves and each other, no matter our background or differences. We promote a culture of tolerance, equality, diversity, inclusion and fairness
Freedom of self-expression – to feel safe enough to be open and to develop positive self-esteem
In our Centres we aim to:
create welcoming, secure, nurturing and happy environments for all children
develop rapid and powerful relationships built on mutual respect and trust
foster children’s self-esteem and confidence through encouragement and positive, trauma informed behaviour management
provide activities and play experiences that are fun, engaging, stimulating and enriching
value each child individually so that they can develop and extend their own special strengths and interests
provide opportunities that encourage the children to share and work co-operatively
foster the positive social and emotional skills of each child necessary for a rapid and smooth integration into mainstream education
“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” Charles Schaefer
Supporting the social and emotional wellbeing and development of refugee children is the heart of our work. By providing opportunities for free and structured play in a safe and nurturing environment, Refugee Children’s Centres allow children to express their feelings and help them deal with complex emotions such as grief and loss.
Most refugee children will have experienced traumatic events, not only in their country of origin but also during displacement and resettlement; they grow up in an uncertain and ever-changing environment that causes high levels of stress and anxiety. Learning to deal with adversity is a normal part of childhood but when stress levels are high and long-lasting it can cause life-long damaging effects on learning, behaviour and health.
Multi-sensory activities, arts, physical activity and imaginary play can reduce stress and anxiety and help children to regulate their emotions. Refugee Children’s Centres offer a program of activities from music to sand-play to cater for the complex needs of refugee and displaced children, from babies to teens. We also work closely with other organisations to facilitate the delivery of therapeutic play sessions, and refer individuals to medical specialists.
The presence of stable, positive and nurturing caregivers enables children to build and strengthen their resilience, shielding them against the impact of trauma and stress. However, in disaster-affected communities, parents and caregivers who are suffering from the effects of war, conflict or trauma themselves are not always able to provide this essential support. Children who have experienced trauma need to be in an environment that fosters a sense of safety, control and predictability. By providing a structured routine within a safe and nurturing environment, Refugee Children’s Centres give a sense of normality and continuity to disaster-affected communities, and help to mitigate against the trauma of displacement.
"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." Confucius
Children are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society and because of this, they need our special care and attention. They are vulnerable physically to disease, malnutrition and injury, and they are dependent on adults for both their physical survival, particularly when very young, and to attend to their developmental and psychological well-being.
Separation from families, break down in community structures, lack of resources and reduced access to essential services in the aftermath of emergencies greatly affect both the physical and psychological well-being of refugee and displaced children of all ages. Refugee and migrant children are at an increased risk of neglect, abuse, violence and exploitation, often going for days without food.
Unaccompanied children in particular are vulnerable to physical abuse, sexual violence and trafficking, and are often forced into prostitution to pay off debts to smugglers. Some children may have gone for days without food, and those who find themselves sleeping outside or alone in cramped detention centres are often too frightened to go to the toilet at night for fear of being attacked.
At Refugee Children’s Centres our interdisciplinary teams are trained to identify vulnerable children. We offer children psychosocial support and we work closely with child protection agencies and other organisations to identify and refer children at risk.
“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” Confucius
Children learn all the time. They acquire knowledge, attitudes, values and skills on a daily basis as they experience the world around them. This kind of ‘informal learning’ happens no matter where they are or what they’re doing. By providing a safe, caring and stimulating environment, and by modelling strong values and promoting positive behaviour, Refugee Children’s Centres allow children the chance to grow and learn.
Education is one of the strongest predictors to life outcomes, yet only 50% of primary age refugee children have access to education and only 22% attend secondary school. With an average time of 17 years spent out of their home countries, children who have been displaced due to war, conflict or natural disasters risk becoming a lost generation.
‘Providing schooling during war and displacement helps children avoid child labour, early marriage and recruitment by armed groups, and can contribute to their mental resilience’ (Save the Children). Without the opportunity to learn, many families feel forced to make dangerous journeys in order to gain access to the education their children deserve.
Many refugee children have been out of the education system for many months or even years, and some may never have accessed formal education at all. High levels of anxiety and depression can make learning impossible. Play helps break down the barriers to learning.
By offering opportunities for both free and structured play, and a program of non-formal education delivered through fun and creative activities, Refugee Children’s Centres help bridge the gap between life in a refugee camp and education in formal settings. We also place a strong emphasis on developing and fostering the positive social and emotional skills necessary for a rapid and smooth integration into mainstream education.
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Mahatma Gandhi
Refugees and displaced people fleeing war-torn areas or natural disaster will often have had minimal access to food and health care. Many will have undertaken long journeys, fuelled only by a poor and sparse diet. Children often arrive at our centres malnourished and in poor health. Owing to having travelled great distances under the direst circumstances with limited access to facilities and food, their physical and mental well-being is likely to be greatly diminished.
Good nutrition is central to the healthy development of children. At our centres we aim to address this by supplementing children’s diets with nutritious snacks and by teaching about healthy eating. Study after study has shown that a healthy body reflects a healthy mind, and vice versa - you cannot address one aspect of good health without the other.
With no running water in tents and shelters it is very difficult to keep clean, especially while having to live in close proximity in damp and overcrowded accommodation, with limited access to toiletries. In these unsanitary conditions there are high instances of diseases such as diarrhoea and vomiting and respiratory disease, along with poor dental hygiene and limited access to medical care.
At our centres we aim to encourage good hygiene practises, with a view to preventing further illness and ensuring the children’s future well-being. We offer a structured approach, focusing on the centrality of health and hygiene, delivered through fun and engaging activities.
“When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles.” Pooh Bear (A. A. Milne)
An active child is a healthy child. Physical activity helps strengthen children’s muscles and bones, keeps them fit and healthy and guards against ill health. Physical activity is also central to good mental health, as it has been shown to dramatically improve mood and behaviour by releasing endorphins which reduce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Through exercise, children can release nervous energy and manage depression, while building self-esteem and confidence.
Children living in refugee camps often have high levels of stress and limited access to space where they can ‘burn off’ their extra energy as camps often have unsuitable ground and little or no designated safe areas for children to run, jump or play. Without being able to burn off their excess energy in a safe and effective way, anxiety and stress often manifest themselves through aggression and depressive behaviours.
Along with the physical and mental health benefits, sports and games are a fun way for children to learn and develop new skills. This may include obstacle courses that help young children develop balance and coordination, football that encourages teamwork, perseverance and leadership, or yoga which, through deep breathing and meditation, promotes calmness and relaxation.
The self-discipline required in sport instils ideas of self-regulation, and rewards behaviours which find positive expression for nervous energy. Structured physical activity helps alleviate and address some of the deeper psychological scars of displaced children, by giving a familiar structure through which they can explore their mental space with a feeling of safety. The mind reflects the environment and the environment the mind – in encouraging a feeling of physical self-mastery and safety, a previously absent sense of security is introduced to a child’s psychological landscape. This focusses attention, helping the child feel more in control of themselves and at ease with the world.
Refugee Children’s Centres offer a program of sports and games activities to help keep children healthy and happy. Past volunteers have included dance therapists, yoga instructors, boxing champions and tennis instructors, to name a few.
Board of Trustees
Board of Directors
Founding Director, Freya White
Programme Coordinator, Helen Wiggins
Research and Development Coordinator, Caroline Zwierzchowska-Dod
Help from Home Team
Marketing and Communication Officer, Lauren Wilson
Programme Officer, Hannah Edge
Research Assistant, Sarah Stevens
Elena Natale BEd, PGCE, Homerton College
Janet Harvell BSc, MA, Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education, Centre for Children & Families, University of Worcester
Alison Prowel BA, MSc, PGCE, PhD Senior Lecturer in Early Years Education,Centre for Children & Families, University of Worcester
Caroline Zwierzchowska-Dod BEd, MEd, Homerton College
Jade Lee, BA, MA, PGCE Early Years, PhD (2018)
Health and Safety
John Knight CMIOSH, British Red Cross