Bairns’ Hoose is a transformational, whole-system approach to delivering child protection, justice, and health support and services to child victims and witnesses of abuse and harm. The overall vision of a Bairns’ Hoose in Scotland is that all children in Scotland who have been victims of 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.
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 justice process for children and families
- we demonstrate connectedness and national leadership to uphold children’s rights to protection, support, participation and recovery
Bairns’ Hoose values are founded on Scotland’s legislative and policy approach to improve outcomes for children, young people and families - Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC). This recognises the importance of early and preventative support, so that children receive the right help, at the right time.
Bringing ‘Barnahus’ to Scotland has been a long standing and crosscutting policy ambition.
Our 22/23 Programme for Government makes a commitment to “Set out the next steps in ensuring access to Bairns’ Hoose services for all children referred for support.”
Bairns’ Hoose is a key action in our Keeping the Promise Implementation Plan and ‘Best Start, Bright Futures: Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2022 to 2026.’ This action will help to achieve national ambitions to plan and deliver services which improve outcomes for children, young people and families, and to deliver holistic whole family support, and realise Scotland’s Vision for Justice.
Bairns Hoose – a three-phased approach
We are introducing a three-phased approach from 2023, beginning with a Pathfinder phase; leading into a pilot phase followed by national roll out, which is described in our Project Plan Progress Report and Pathfinder Delivery Plan (2023 – 25). This approach will allow time to build in the learning and evaluation needed to ensure that the Bairns’ Hoose model is achieving the correct outcomes ahead of national rollout; and to ensure alignment with other key policy objectives.
A key element of Bairns’ Hoose is provision of a child-friendly setting which supports an integrated approach as part of the team around the child. Bairns’ Hoose – based on the Icelandic model ‘Barnahus’ (child’s house) – will bring together services in a ‘four rooms’ approach with child protection, health, justice and recovery services available in one setting. A key aim of the model is to reduce the number of times children have to recount their experiences. To achieve this, a co-ordinated approach, which places the needs of the child at the centre across services, will be developed, in line with the GIRFEC practice model and national guidance for child protection in Scotland.
Instead of having to go to multiple services in multiple locations our ambition is that, where it is in the child’s best interests, the therapeutic care, support and recovery services a child and their family need, and including in serious cases the pre-recording of evidence, will be available in one setting – at the Bairns’ Hoose. The location, type of premises and layout are all important factors in ensuring children can access these services in a safe, welcoming and homely environment.
The principles underpinning the Scottish Child Interview Model for Joint Investigative Interviews will be a fundamental aspect of our national Bairns’ Hoose model, to ensure that interviews are conducted with a child’s best interests as a primary consideration. This includes scope for an interview conducted at a Bairn’s Hoose to be used as the evidence in chief of a child.
The Scottish approach to Barnahus
The Scottish approach to Barnahus is based on the key principles that Bairns’ Hoose is there to uphold children’s rights and that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them.
Ministers have agreed that these overarching principles are essential; underpinned by national Bairns’ Hoose Standards, which are based on European Barnahus Quality Standards, and which will provide a framework for a Bairns’ Hoose model in Scotland.
Working with key stakeholders, including children and young people, we will take a rights-based approach in our development of the model, based on the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Bairns’ Hoose model will reflect all relevant policy and legislative developments across children’s services, justice and health and social care in Scotland.
Local Bairns’ Hoose provision will fall within the definition of a children’s service, and will therefore be an integral part of planning and delivery of services set out in an area’s Children’s Services Plan (see Part 3 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014). The aims of a Children’s Services Plan are that services in the area are provided in the way which best safeguards, supports and promotes wellbeing (SHANARRI), ensures families experience support as integrated and with a focus on early intervention and prevention and best use of resource. The 2014 Act requires annual reporting on the Children’s Services Plan to demonstrate how outcomes have been improved for children and young people living in the area. In the context of Bairns’ Hoose, children’s services plans and the reports on these will consider the impact of local service provision in addressing the specific wellbeing needs of children in recovery from experiences of trauma, abuse and neglect.
This approach will ensure consistency in the experiences of children and their families, with flexibility for local delivery partners to adapt the model to suit local circumstances. This recognises that co-location of all relevant services may not always be feasible, whilst still retaining the Bairns’ Hoose principles of a child-friendly setting and delivery of joined-up support as part of the team around the child.
Bairns’ Hoose and the Scottish justice system
Bairns’ Hoose will continue to observe the independent role of the Lord Advocate as head of the system of investigation and prosecution of crime in Scotland. The national Bairns’ Hoose model will be compatible with the independent responsibilities of police, prosecutors, children’s reporters and the judiciary.
The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 is also a milestone piece of legislation in the journey towards the Bairns’ Hoose model, and we will continue to work with partners across the criminal justice sector on its implementation.
Scottish Ministers have agreed the Scottish Government’s ambition for the scope of Bairns’ Hoose eligibility, recognising that Bairns’ Hoose is an evolving policy context. We aim to include:
- all children under the age of 18 in Scotland who may have been victims or witnesses to abuse or violence, which has caused, or is likely to cause, significant harm
- all children under the Age of Criminal Responsibility (ACR) whose behaviour may have caused, or risked causing, significant harm or abuse
The National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2021 describes the responsibilities and expectations for all involved in protecting children in Scotland. The guidance defines a child as someone under the age of 18 years.
We believe that the current scope of Bairns’ Hoose will reach the most vulnerable children in society, and we continue to look at ways to provide appropriate specialist support to all children who need this.
In exceptional circumstances, it may be appropriate to allow access to a Bairns’ Hoose for a vulnerable person over the age of 18 with complex needs. These decisions will be for local areas to make, based on an assessment of the needs of the vulnerable person.
Children of, or above, the age of criminal responsibility and who may have committed offences, may still potentially access the Bairns’ Hoose, if it is believed that they are a victim of, or have witnessed, a separate act of abuse or violence; which has caused or is likely to cause significant harm. For the avoidance of doubt, the scope of Bairns’ Hoose does not currently extend to the alleged offending behaviour by such children, but only extends to entirely separate behaviour in respect of which the child may be a victim or witness.
We believe that appropriate trauma-informed services and support should be available to all children who need them. However, within the development of the national Bairns’ Hoose model, our initial focus has been on improving the experiences of child victims and witnesses and children under the age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour may have caused harm. Our phased approach to Bairns’ Hoose testing and implementation will give us the opportunity to consider the learning from Pathfinder partnerships and how the principles of Bairns’ Hoose might meet the needs of children over the age of criminal responsibility who may have caused serious harm, as a destination to work towards on an evidence-informed basis.
Access to Bairns’ Hoose services
Whilst there is no statutory or uniform criteria defining 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, a child protection Inter-Agency Referral Discussion (IRD) must be convened as soon as reasonably practicable. An IRD may also be convened in relation to a child under the age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour may have caused, or risked causing, significant harm or abuse.
The IRD is the primary decision making forum which, in discussion with the child and family, will identify the need for a child/young person to access support from a Bairns’ Hoose.
Joint Investigative Interview
Most children and young people who attend a Bairns’ Hoose through the child protection IRD process, will be interviewed to obtain the clearest possible picture of what has happened to them, or what they have witnessed. The interview will be a formal joint investigative interview (JII) which should be conducted by police officers and social workers trained in the Scottish Child Interview Model.
Age of Criminal Responsibility (ACR)
Another route for children and young people to access Bairns’ Hoose support, is through the “ACR IRD” process. An ACR Investigative Interview may be held where a child under the age of criminal responsibility may have caused, or risked causing, serious physical or sexual harm to another person. The purpose of this interview is to gain insight into this behaviour and, where appropriate, ensure that positive interventions can be made to minimise the risk of further harmful behaviour. Where the child may themselves have been the victim of, or witness to, abuse or violence, they may receive other support from the Bairns’ Hoose such as access to therapeutic recovery services, even in circumstances where the ACR Investigative Interview has not taken place in the Bairns’ Hoose.
Where an interview is not required, a child may still access a Bairns’ Hoose on a needs basis as part of the Child’s Plan, based on professional judgement and local context.
The Pathfinder Phase
Through the Pathfinder phase, we will start to improve the experience of children, young people and their families in the justice, care and recovery services.
The Bairns’ Hoose Standards will be trialled during this phase, with the expected phase outcome that by 2025 we will have enough knowledge about how the Standards work in different delivery contexts, to develop a national Bairns’ Hoose model and identify the support required to underpin the pilot phase for that model.
This paper is a revised statement of our intent for pursuing a Bairns’ Hoose model in Scotland and will be subject to ongoing review to reflect emerging learning from Pathfinders, pilot development and international Barnahus developments. We will use this as a starting point for wider conversations about how Bairns’ Hoose should work in Scotland, and to support discussions relating to the scope of the national model.
- First published
- 14 September 2021
- Last updated
- 1 June 2023
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