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Sport for Development

Developing an evidence-based framework for S4D programming and policy
Sport for Development

Sport for Development (S4D) uses sports to achieve crucial outcomes for children and youth, such as learning, health, empowerment and protection. Collaborating with partners, including the Barça Foundation, this research aims to expand the evidence base on S4D.  

In 2019, UNICEF Innocenti launched the first global literature review on S4D – Getting into the Game – which found that sport can be a positive factor in four key areas of children’s lives: Education, Social Inclusion, Child Protection, and Empowerment. Playing the Game (2021) builds on these findings, harnessing the experiences of stakeholders from different contexts and provides ten in-depth case studies of S4D organizations. Based on the evidence, the report outlines a guiding framework – from design, through implementation, to scaling and sustainability – for S4D programming targeting children and youth. 

Now, the project is building the evidence base around the role S4D can play in refugee children’s mental health. Through a mixed-methods pilot, the study aims to show what good mental health can look like for refugee children and understand the mechanisms that bring about positive change through their participation in an S4D programme. The study takes place in 2022 in Lesvos, Greece.  

 

Publications

Playing the Game: A framework and toolkit for successful child focused sport for development programmes
Publication

Playing the Game: A framework and toolkit for successful child focused sport for development programmes

To identify best practices in S4D programming and achieve a stronger evidence base on how S4D interventions can work effectively, the Playing the Game report and Toolkit draw on ten qualitative in-depth case studies undertaken with S4D organizations operating in different world regions and across various contexts, programme goals and issue areas. Findings from these ten case studies and the existing literature are brought together to develop an evidence-based guiding framework and Toolkit for S4D programming targeting children and youth.
Getting into the Game: Understanding the evidence for child-focused Sport for Development
Publication

Getting into the Game: Understanding the evidence for child-focused Sport for Development

Sport is a powerful means by which to engage all children in activities for personal and social development and to help them achieve their full potential. From an early age, sport provides children – including the most marginalized – with the opportunity to develop their physical abilities and health, to socialize, to build leadership skills, to foster lifelong learning and to learn as well as to have fun. Furthermore, to engage in play and recreational activities is a child’s right: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 31.1) clearly establishes “the right of the child to … leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child…”. As first of its kind global study, this report aims to address the dearth of evidence on the implementation and impact of S4D policy and programming for children. To do this, the report assesses, systematizes and maps existing evidence on S4D policies and programmes through desk-based research. Quality counts, so each chapter first assesses the evidence for its conceptual coherence, methodological and analytical strength, relevance/generalizability to the S4D field at large, and ethical considerations, before discussing the main messages and recommendations to come out of the evidence. The key messages and main conclusions have also been developed by seeking programming information from S4D programming both within UNICEF, the Barça Foundation and around the world.
Getting into the Game Report Summary: Understanding the evidence for child-focused sport for development
Publication

Getting into the Game Report Summary: Understanding the evidence for child-focused sport for development

Sport is a powerful tool for involving all children – including the most marginalized and vulnerable – in group activities from an early age (UNHCR, 2013). For this reason, sport for development (S4D) organizations use sport as an inclusive means of helping children to improve their health; to develop their physical abilities; to develop their social, educational and leadership skills; and of course, to play and have fun. S4D initiatives come in various forms – from those that build personal and social programmes around sport, to those that include sport as one of many approaches to achieving social goals. This new UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti summary report analyses available evidence on S4D initiatives for children and youth. The findings cover how the key outcomes of education, social inclusion, protection and empowerment link to sport; what works in practice and how it works; the main challenges for implementation; and recommendations for better policy, practice and research.

Blogs

The power of play in the pandemic
Blog

The power of play in the pandemic

Play is key for child development and the mental health of children and caregivers.Play is an essential part of development in the early years. Play is the way young children from birth to three  learn, as they  explore and begin to make sense of the world around them. Research shows that play supports many interrelated facets of development including cognitive, physical, social, emotional and language development in young children, setting the foundation on which new learning builds  throughout a child’s life.  Through play, young children develop social connections, which help regulate emotions, enhance self-esteem and empathy, and even improve the immune system! Playful interactions with parents help children develop their social-emotional skills, including how to manage their emotions and be in relationship with others – important for future emotional health and lifelong skills development.Recent research also shows that playful interactions with young children contributes to parental well-being and positive mental health. This is key, as we know that parental mental health is an essential driver of optimal child development. Parents who struggle with their own mental health tend to be less responsive to their children’s cues and might find it difficult to provide nurturing and responsive care. When parents engage in meaningful play with their children, they are not only supporting their child’s development but also improving  their own emotional well-being.  A recent study in Pakistan found that mothers who engaged in a parent-child play activity with their children over a 10-week period had a decline in depressive symptoms.This evidence doesn’t just come from research studies – parents themselves report that playing with their children makes them feel good. In 2018 the LEGO Play Well report found that 9 in 10 parents say play is fundamental to their own happiness and makes them feel more relaxed, energized, and creative. It also found that play has positive effects on family life, with ninety percent of parents saying play strengthens family relationships and helps them get to know their children better.Now, more than ever, we must leverage the power of play to promote parental mental health and child developmentA home-visiting nurse uses the Caring for the Caregiver approach in Serbia as part of the UNICEF-LEGO Foundation Playful Parenting programmeFor many caregivers, playful interactions with children have never been more important than in the current moment when both child development and parental mental health and well-being are at risk given the consequences of global COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic, parents and caregivers have had to manage increased financial, personal, and professional stressors.  It has become clear that the stressors of the pandemic, coupled with social isolation, have had a negative effect on the mental health and wellbeing of parents as they try to navigate a new ‘normal’  for themselves and their families.While it may seem difficult to find the time or energy for engaging in playful experiences, here are the ways that just a little play time can support well-being and development:Firstly, as parents contend with the multiple challenges they are facing during the pandemic, engaging in meaningful play activities with their children can improve their mental health and well-being. It’s true that during stressful periods, it can be hard to feel like playing, or prioritize the time for play. However it is during these times that play is most needed. Singing, dancing, and playing games together are good stress relievers, and are a great way for both children and caregivers alike to have fun even in the midst of stressful situations.Secondly, play can also strengthen positive parent-child interactions, which are key for young children’s development. This is particularly important in light of lockdowns and childcare closures which have left children isolated from their friends and peers. Aschildren’s first playmate, parents can continue to provide opportunities for early learning and social connection even while at home. Play also empowers and builds confidence for children and caregivers alike. By playing with their parents, children can learn they are loved, important and fun to be around. By playing with their children, parents can have fun, and be reminded of their unique ability to provide their children with comfort, connection, and love. Even in stressful times, these positive parent-child interactions can lay a foundation for social-emotional skills development and mental health that will last into the future.Finally, as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its eighteenth month, play is also an important way of protecting children from the negative impacts of prolonged exposure to stress. The Harvard Centre for the Developing Child considers exposure to prolonged adversity a source of toxic stress, which can have serious negative impacts on both physical and mental health across the lifespan. Supportive, stable relationships with adults can buffer children from stress and protect their development, even in adversity. As part of its current partnership, UNICEF and the LEGO Foundation have developed the Playful Parenting and Responding to the Crisis of Care and Learning programmes. These programmes support countries around the world to improve the capacity of frontline workers and provide timely support and information in order to promote the mental health and emotional well-being of parents so they can provide nurturing care and engage in playful interactions with their young children.As part of this initiative, a new training package for frontline workers called Caring for the Caregiver (CFC) has been created, in collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand and Harvard University. It is being validated in eight countries and will be ready for global roll-out in the second part of 2021.The CFC approach uses activity-based learning to promote emotional awareness and self-care, encourage partner and family support, develop strategies to deal with conflict, and learn problem-solving skills, particularly in contexts of high levels of adversity.“I was stressed, but thanks to the community health worker’s advice … I have mental stability … my child is becoming more and more open to interacting, which brings me joy.” – Mother, Koutiala Cercle Nutrition support, Pilot of Caring for the Caregivers, Mali 2018As illustrated below, play is a core element of the approach:Dealing with emotions and stressRisk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and thoughts of self-harm may be elevated for caregivers during the pandemic, especially for those with pre-existing problems. Engaging in fun activities and play can trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals!Family conflict strategiesFamilies that regularly interact with each other in positive, playful ways can build strong bonds that can help them deal with and diffuse conflict when it arises within the family. This is especially important during the pandemic, when violence against both caregivers and children has been on the rise globally.Strengthening interactions and relationshipsAs part of its “connect” component, CFC uses play to strengthen the quality of child-caregiver interactions and relationships, which in turn helps both to strengthen their resiliency and coping skills and foster optimal child development.RoutinesCFC helps families create a nurturing environment where children and family members engage in learning though play as part of regular everyday activities while also encouraging a balanced sharing of caregiving and domestic responsibilities among caregivers.When the pandemic began in early 2020, there was an immediate need for messages, activities, and strategies to support caregiver mental health. To meet this need, a new guide, entitledCaring for the Caregiver during the COVID-19 Crisis, provides evidence-based messages, practical guidance, case studies and resources that can be used to promote parents’ and caregivers’ mental health during the COVID-19 crisis and recovery period.The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left a mark on every parent, and the Caring for the Caregiver program has come at the right moment. As the trusted professionals and friend of the family, we can learn about the mental health needs of the family and provide first line listening support and advice. - Home visiting nurse, Novi Sad, SerbiaThere is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for parents and children alike. UNICEF and the LEGO Foundation remain committed to continue to support parents and children during the crisis to ensure that this generation of young children not only survive but also thrive.

Events

Sport for Development Phase II Launch Event: Playing the Game
Event

Sport for Development Phase II Launch Event: Playing the Game

Join us for our live virtual launch of Phase II of our Sport for Development Research.The Barça Foundation and UNICEF invite you to the launch of the latest evidence in #SportForDevelopment for Children by UNICEF Innocenti. We will present and discuss: - The Playing the Game Report: A framework for successful child-focused sport for development programmes - The Playing the Game Toolkit: A guide for sport for development practitioners Explore all our research on #S4D: https://www.unicef-irc.org/research/s... #PlayingTheGame #Sport4Change #AllOneForChildren