Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

Town and school of democracy for disadvantaged children and youth (CEMU)


CiudadEscuela Muchachos (CEMU) is an alternative foster care centre dedicated to educating children living in situations of disadvantage and or at the risk of social exclusion, some of whom are minors belonging to the Child Protection System of Spain.

The CEMU centre is a place where every child - regardless of their origin, ethnic background, or religion - feels welcomed, protected, and accepted within a democratic community. It is based on a socio-educational practice called Juego Ciudadano, ‘the citizen game’ in English.

Children become the facilitators of their daily lives through negotiations, proposals, and programs organised around a weekly assembly (following the same principles as a parliament) that allows them to voice their opinions through a democratic process.

Practice Category

  • Helping Vulnerable Children,
  • Facilitating Positive Transitions to Adulthood

Recommendation pillar

  • Provide for adequate living standards through a combination of benefits
  • Improve education system's impact on equal opportunities
  • Reduce inequality at a young age by investing in early childhood education and care
  • Provide children with a safe, adequate housing and living environment, Improve education systems’ impact on equal opportunities
  • Support the participation of all children in play, recreation, sport and cultural activities
  • Put in place mechanisms that promote children’s participation in decision making that affect their lives

Countries that have implemented practice

  • Spain

Age groups

  • Young Children (age 0 to 5)
  • Middle Childhood (age 6 to 12)
  • Teenagers (age 13 to 19)

Target groups

  • Children
  • Children/teenagers involved in the youth justice system
  • Children/teenagers with behavioural problems
  • Migrant/refugee children

Years in operation

  • 1981 - still operationg

Scope of practice

  • National level

Type of organisation implementing practice

  • Private Education Organization
  • Other Private Organization

CEMU is a not-for-profit organisation, Asociación Muchachos Ciudadescuelas de Formación Sociocultural, registered in the National Registration Office of Associations under number 36986. CEMU was declared of Public Utility by the Ministry cabinet on June 5th 1985.

Rationale of the practice

The CEMU centre offers an alternative to traditional foster care establishments for children and youth in need and at risk of social exclusion.

It is built like a city: with a school, residential buildings, a bank, a casino, shops, parks, a theatre, arts and crafts academies, a border control, a cathedral open to all beliefs and a town hall. The CEMU centre gives children control over their own lives as they oversee the city´s management. It is built on collaboration between children and adults, a principle known as “The Child-Adult Binomial”. The programme for residents consists of regular meetings: the weekly assembly is led by a mayor elected every two years by all registered ‘citizens’ of the CEMU centre – these include residents, students and volunteers. During the assembly meeting, managed by the residents, all ‘citizens’ discuss issues and conflicts within the town and they assess the progress of the programme – adults can only speak when allowed by the mayor.

In order to provide an integrative environment, the 60 residents coexist during the day with about 350 external students who attend CEMU School, including preschool, primary and secondary levels, and around 50 external youth, who participate in socio-educational programs for the neighbourhood of Leganés, Madrid. Many of the CEMU residents have experienced homelessness, trauma, or mental and physical neglect. Through the principle of ‘identical justice’, the centre hopes to remove the prejudice that comes with the ‘at risk’ label. In order to achieve this, the centre follows the motto that ‘all children, regardless of their abilities and personal situation, should have the same educational possibilities’ and offers an ‘integral’ education, combining theoretical and practical learning in the school centre as well as through additional workshops on topical issues or practical skills.

Outcomes of the Practice

By creating a place where they can grow free of social stereotypes and stigma, CEMU aims to facilitate a true social integration for its residents. The educational methodology, the Citizen Game, nurtures the integral growth of the child; at the community level, it fosters a healthy coexistence and promotes positive role models among the children and youth.

Mode of delivery

  • Individual sessions
  • Group sessions

According to the “Child-Adult Binomial” principle, the children manage the town as part of their training process to become responsible and solidary citizens of our society, and attend specific educational activities. At the weekly assembly, residents gather with educators, teachers, and managers to assess progress, review issues and resolve conflicts.

Delivery dosage

  • Frequency: Daily
  • Duration: More than 1 hour sessions

The mandatory weekly assembly is the main session of CEMU’s educational methodology. Other meetings include the meeting of the municipal corporation, the meetings of the school council and the meetings of neighbourhoods (dormitories). Other activities include the communication and media workshop in which participants publish a monthly newspaper, manage a radio, a website and a Youtube channel (CEMU RTV Digital).

Location of practice

  • Other, please specify:

The CiudadEscuela Muchachos is a centre extended over 30,000 square meters. With the architecture of a city designed for children, CEMU emulates the layout of a typical Mediterranean town, with a church open to all creeds, a city hall, a school, etc.

The intention is that any building with enough space within CEMU can recreate the idea of a town for children, providing the necessary spaces to carry on the socio-educational activities that are part of CEMU´s democratic practice.

Key lessons learned

Implementers of the practice consider that their methodology is remarkable in providing a positive environment for CEMU’s residents who are all in situations of disadvantage and or at social risk. An important lesson learnt is that providing children with a feeling of empowerment and giving them a welcoming environment is a ‘powerful’ combination ‘to help them understand their situations, learn to live with their past and take responsibility for their futures, while at the same time providing love and care for them’ (Jaime Gomez, personal communication, 17 May 2018).

Practice Materials

  • Practice materials available but not accessible online

The CEMU educational approach uses a variety of materials, among the following:

  • ‘Libro Verde’ (Green Book), an internal manual of guidelines and rules
  • ‘La Constitución del Niño' (The Child Constitution), which is available online as an ebook. If necessary funds are obtained, the programme developers will publish an English edition
  • Convivencia (Coexistence), out of print at the moment
  • Una teoría para la Educación en Libertad (A Theory for The Education in Freedom), out of print at the moment
  • Mayoría de edad 14 años (Coming of Age at 14), in preparation

Cost information

  • Implementation cost information is not available

Scale of implementation

There is only one main location situated in Leganes, Madrid, where around 400 children and adolescents live and go to school each year. CiudadEscuela Muchachos has been opened since 1970 and the residential population has fluctuated between 56 and 100 minors per year, while the number of students has been steady around 350 per school year. At this time, CEMU’s physical environment is built on a 30,000 square meters parcel of land, where there are around 9,000 square meters of building space.

Evidence of effectiveness

  • Practice has been evaluated

CEMU Pedagogical Director conducts a comprehensive review every year, prepared by the Technical Team for Coordination, Guidance and Monitoring with the participation of children and youth residents, their families, and the team of educators and youth workers. This annual report examines overall progress at the residential and educational levels and points out areas for improvement. The evaluation from 2017 showed that residents have high levels of satisfaction, with 90% of participants reporting feeling well received since the first  day they joined the centre, as well as feeling respected by their teachers. This evaluation is part of CEMU´s Internal Quality Control Plan.

However, the evaluations CEMU conducts do not allow the centre to be classified as an evidence-based practice within EPIC as these evaluations do not meet EPIC's evidence of effectivness criteria. More specifically, the evaluation did not use an experimental design and there was no comparison group to the group receiving the intervention. The evaluation also did not use statistical outcomes to assess the impact of the intervention.

Contact information


Jaime Gómez


Head of Training, Educative Innovation, and Publications


CiudadEscuela Muchachos (CEMU)


Avd. Doctor Fleming, 3 Leganés, Madrid 28912 (SPAIN)







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