Supporting children in the justice system

Improving services for victims and witnesses.

Transformational change is to be brought about in the way children are treated by the justice system.

The Scottish Government will work to ensure that all eligible children who are victims or witnesses to abuse or violence will have access to a ‘Bairns’ Hoose’ by 2025.

That means the services they need will all be available via a coordinated approach designed to reduce the number of times children have to recount their experiences to different professionals.

Children below the age of criminal responsibility, whose behaviour has caused harm, will also have access to the services it will provide.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown was updated on the progress towards developing a national Bairns’ Hoose model at a national symposium today (14 September).

This coincides with the Scottish Government publishing its vision and values to inform a longer term programme of work.

Bairns’ Hoose – based on an Icelandic model - will bring together services in a ‘four rooms’ approach with child protection, health, justice and recovery services all made available in one setting.

These project developments have been supported by a number of bodies including Children 1st, Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.

Mr Brown said:

“We are aiming for transformational change in relation to how children in the justice system are treated, not just in relation to the taking of evidence but ensuring that they can access timely support and begin their recovery as soon as possible.

“Bringing these elements together in one setting is our goal and we must work collectively to achieve it.

“At present, young people who are caught up in our justice system have to go to multiple different services and locations.

“We believe that every eligible child victim or witness has the right to consistent and holistic support, access to specialist services and be afforded the opportunity to recover from their experiences and that these services should be delivered cohesively.”

Children 1st Chief Executive Mary Glasgow said:

“This is an incredibly important commitment to children and their families in Scotland. Today’s publication of the Scottish Bairns’ Hoose Vision realises the pledge to transform the country’s age old systems. It will uphold every child’s right to justice, protection and care.

“Over many years children have bravely shared that they have been further traumatised by the systems that should have been there to support them following their experiences of abuse or violence. They and their parents and carers have also spoken of their shock and distress at the lack of available help to recover from what has happened to them.

“This Vision to create a Scottish Bairns’ Hoose is rooted in what children have told us they need to recover and move on and we look forward to continuing to work with all the partners, services and agencies involved to bring it to life.”

Bragi Guðbrandsson, Member of the United Nation´s Committee on the Rights of the Child and former head of the Icelandic Government Agency for Child Protection, which spearheaded the Barnahus model of justice, as the initiative is known in Europe, said:

“Advocates for child-friendly justice all over Europe are thrilled to learn about the great progress Scotland has made in preparing for establishing Barnahus.

“This exciting development underlines the international consensus among professionals that we have an obligation to apply the cross-cutting principles of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child as well as evidence based knowledge to ensure the best interest of children in situations of abuse and vulnerability.”


Read the Scottish Bairns’ Hoose vision.

The 14 September symposium was jointly hosted by Healthcare Improvement Scotland and the Care Inspectorate.

A key aim of the model is to reduce the number of times children have to recount their experiences to different professionals. The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 is also a milestone piece of legislation in the journey towards the Bairns’ Hoose model. 

Child witnesses under 18 in the most serious criminal cases now have their evidence pre-recorded in advance of the trial, with the aim that they will give all of their evidence in advance of the court hearing.


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