Creating Safe, Welcoming, and Healing Spaces for Children


At our Policy Acton Team (PAT) meeting in September, we had a very informative and interactive presentation from Meghan Schafer from Horizons for Homeless Children. Not only did she provide a wealth of information on how family shelters can create safe, welcoming, inclusive and trauma informed spaces for children, but shelter providers at the meeting offered their own ideas on how to implement what research tells us kids need. Check out this Horizons video on effective strategies for play that promote healing.

Image result for welcoming play space

Turns out that supporting kids in playing, yes PLAYING, builds resiliency, ability to cope with and overcome trauma, and overall healthy development in children. Here are some ideas of shelter-based techniques that came from our group of providers:

  • making outdoor space accessible, inviting and safe: cutting the grass, fencing in the area, and making it free of trash, etc.
  • maintaining a supply closet with age appropriate toys to be able to offer to families when they arrive
  • providing staff training to understand what children need and to support children and families in a trauma informed way, e.g. children’s need to move around freely
  • having baking ingredients on hand for families to bake with children
  • giving children the space to build up trust to feeling comfortable to go to staff for a hug or comfort, and then staff being there for that kind of support
  • facilitating opportunity for open play and interaction with other kids in the shelter

Members of our Homes for Families Consumer Advocacy Team (families who have experienced homelessness) also added that it’s important to understand and acknowledge that behaviors can stem from a child’s current environment and children may carry stress from what they have experienced or are currently experiencing in shelter. Tools for relieving stress could help, for example, sensory toys and activities. Access to academic support would be valuable as well, including volunteer tutors or book donations.

In addition to these ideas, we suggest looking carefully at representation in play spaces – is there multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-racial, gender fluid, etc. representation? Recognizing that all kids are different/look different, the room should reflect that. Making a space cozy and welcoming can go a long way too, especially within the context of a more sterile shelter environment. Color on the walls, comfortable chairs, and warm lighting are ideas to consider for making a space more homey.

Image result for children and colors image

Children’s Issues come up as a high priority again and again when Homes for Families asks families and providers to list important advocacy issue areas. There are many areas of focus within that large umbrella of children’s issues, of course. Safety is one of those focus areas among shelter providers and families, and in recent years, greater attention has been given to preventing child sexual abuse. We are committed to shining a light on this issue and sharing best practices as well. Darkness to Light provides a lot of resources. Here, you can find information for 5 steps to protecting our children on their website.

Let us know what you find useful, or if you have more to add to the conversation or best practices to share!

Liz and Team HFF

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