- 14 Sep 2021
As highlighted in A Fairer, Greener Scotland: Programme for Government 2021-22, we aim 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.
Bairns’ Hoose – based on an Icelandic model "Barnahus" - will bring together services in a ‘four rooms’ approach with child protection, health, justice and recovery services all made available in one setting.
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.
This paper sets out in broad terms our vision of how Barnahus should be implemented in Scotland, the values which should underpin the model and our approach to its practical implementation.
The overall vision of a Bairns’ Hoose (Barnahus) in Scotland is that:
“All children in Scotland who have been victims or witnesses to abuse or violence, as well as children under the age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour has caused significant harm or abuse will have access to trauma informed recovery, support and justice.”
The Programme for Government commits us to delivering access to Bairns’ Hooses for all eligible children in Scotland by 2025.
Bairns’ Hoose values
The key values through which this vision will be achieved are that:
- we are child centred, trauma informed and respect the rights and wellbeing of the child at all times
- we provide consistent and holistic support, which enables children to have their voice heard, access specialist services and recover from their experiences
- we aim to prevent children being retraumatised and to improve the experience of the criminal justice process for children and families
- we demonstrate connectedness and national leadership to uphold children’s rights to protection, support, participation and recovery
The Scottish approach to Barnahus
Our approach is rights-based in line with the United Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), The Promise and Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) in recognising that all children must receive the right help at the right time.
Scottish Ministers have agreed the Scottish Government’s ambition for the scope of Bairns’ Hoose eligibility. This recognises the evolving policy context and issues associated with that. We aim to include:
- all children in Scotland who have been victims or witnesses to abuse or violence, which has caused or likely to cause significant harm
- children under the age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour has caused significant harm or abuse
The National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 includes the protection of children and young people under the age of 18 years. In March 2021, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill which specifies that the rights incorporated apply to anyone under the age of 18 (a judgement is awaited on the UK Government’s challenge on the legislative competence of certain provisions). We believe that the current scope of Bairns’ Hoose means that we are developing this in a way that reaches the most vulnerable children in society, and we continue to look at ways to provide appropriate support to all children.
Whilst there is no statutory or uniform defining criteria for significant harm the revised National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 states that “Significant harm refers to serious interruption, change or damage to a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual or behavioural health and development.”
Where information is received by police, health or social work that a child may have been abused or neglected and/or is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, an Inter-Agency Referral Discussion (IRD) must be convened as soon as reasonably practicable. Inter-Agency Referral Discussions will be a critical factor in the development and implementation of the Bairns’ Hoose model to ensure that every eligible child has access to its services.
Our approach will be to develop test sites and capture learning from a pilot programme on a limited basis before scaling up nationally, informed by emerging practice developments, in line with other European models.
Child friendly setting
A key element of Barnahus is the child friendly setting and the whole team around the child.
It is important not to lose the concept of the physical construct of a Bairns’ Hoose - where all the child’s needs are met under one roof. Instead of having to go to multiple different services in multiple locations, including for example pre-recording of evidence in the most serious of cases or evidence by remote site, all the care, support and recovery a child and their family needs will be delivered under one roof - at the ‘Bairns’ Hoose’.
In recognising that it may not always be feasible to co-locate all relevant services, it is important that this does not preclude realisation of consistent standards for the Scottish Barnahus/Bairn’s Hoose.
How the Barnahus standards should be understood in the Scottish context of supporting children and families
Ministers have agreed that overarching principles are essential, with flexibility for local delivery partners to adapt the model for their local context.
The Scottish approach to Barnahus will be based on the European Barnahus Quality Standards. This should be flexible enough to allow local authorities to tailor Barnahus to suit local circumstances. Close collaboration across agencies and between local partnerships is a pre-requisite for development, implementation and evaluation of the approach.
Barnahus proposals will continue to observe the Lord Advocate’s independent role as head of the system of investigation and prosecution of crime in Scotland. The Model will be compatible with the independent responsibilities of police, prosecutors and the judiciary.
The Barnahus ideal reduces the number of times children have to recount their experiences to different professionals. The work undertaken to enhance our approach to Joint Investigative Interviews, and in particular the roll out of the Scottish Child Interview Model, will continue to ensure that interviews are conducted with the best interest of the child as a primary consideration. This includes scope for this to be used as evidence in chief, increasing the use of pre-recorded evidence, and minimising the risk of further traumatisation. The principles underpinning the Scottish Child Interview Model for Joint Investigative Interview will be a fundamental aspect of our Bairns’ Hoose model.
A co-ordinated and collaborative approach across justice, health and children’s services, and third sector partners will be important. Work is underway to ensure the development of the Barnahus concept is in line with existing cross cutting policy and processes in Scotland:
- embedding the implementation of the Scottish Child Interview Model of Joint Investigative Interview within the Barnahus model
- in congruence with the implementation of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019
- the Forensic Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2021
- the Getting it right for every child National Practice Model
- the incorporation of UNCRC into Scots law
- the implementation of The Promise
- the revised National guidance of child protection in Scotland
- the clinical pathway for healthcare professionals working to support children and young people who may have experienced child sexual abuse.
- building on current good practice and improvements, across a wide range of other related work-streams in children’s services, health and justice
We will also ensure that developments align with any proposed changes to children’s services in the review of the national care system.
This paper is the first statement of our intent for pursuing a Bairns’ Hoose model in Scotland and will be subject to review to reflect emerging learning from test sites, pilot development and international Barnahus developments. We will use this as a starting point for wider conversations about how the Bairns’ Hoose should work in Scotland, and to support discussions relating to the scope of the standards.