Bairns' Hoose - Scottish Barnahus: vision, values and approach

Sets out our vision of how Barnahus should be implemented in Scotland, the values which should underpin the model and our approach to its practical implementation.

Overall vision

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.”

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 voices 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


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.

A key element of Barnahus is the child friendly setting and the whole team around the child. Bairns’ Hoose – based on the 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 achieve this, a co-ordinated approach, which places the needs of the child at the centre across services, will be developed.

The Scottish approach to Barnahus

We will work with key stakeholders, including children and young people, to develop a rights-based Scottish approach to establishing a national Bairns’ Hoose model. Based on the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the model will reflect all relevant policy and legislative developments across children’s services, justice and health and social care in Scotland. It will be aligned with our policy programmes of #KeepThePromise and Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC), which seek to recognise that all children must receive the right help at the right time. 


Scottish ministers have agreed our 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 are believed to 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 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 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 ensuring that every eligible child has access to a Bairns’ Hoose.

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. It would be inappropriate to prescribe the exact circumstances in which a vulnerable person outside of the scope would be admitted to a Bairns’ Hoose. These decisions will be for local areas to make based on an assessment of the needs of the vulnerable person.

Children older than the age of criminal responsibility and who 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’ Hooses does not extend to the alleged offending behaviour by such children, but only extends to entirely separate behaviour in respect of which such a child is allegedly a victim.

In recognition that providing holistic family support for the non-abusing families and caregivers around a child victim or witness can aid their recovery, further consideration of this provision within the scope of Bairns’ Hooses (when this is in the best interests of the child) will be made during the test site development and piloting phases.

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

The Barnahus Model provides Scotland with an opportunity to provide a genuinely child-centred approach to delivering justice, care and recovery for children who have experienced trauma, including, but not only, child sexual abuse. That means the services they need will all be available via a co-ordinated approach designed to reduce the number of times children have to recount their experiences to different professionals.

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’. The location, type of premises and layout are all important factors in ensuring children can access the services in a safe, welcoming and homely environment.

How the Barnahus standards should be understood in the Scottish context of supporting children and families

The Scottish approach to Barnahus will be based on the European Barnahus Quality Standards. Ministers have agreed that overarching principles are essential, underpinned by national standards which will provide a framework for a Barnahus model in Scotland. This will ensure a consistency in the child’s experience, with flexibility for local delivery partners to adapt the model to suit local circumstances in recognition that it may not always be feasible to co-locate all relevant services, whilst still retaining the principles of a child-friendly setting and the whole team around the child. 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.

A key element of Bairns’ Hoose will be embedding the new Scottish Child Interview Model for Joint Investigative Interviews within the national model and to continue to ensure that interviews are conducted with the best interest of the child as a primary consideration. This includes scope for this interview to be used as the whole or part of the evidence in chief of a child, if an application for the relevant special measure is made by the prosecution and granted by the court.

The principles underpinning the Scottish Child Interview Model for Joint Investigative Interviews will be a fundamental aspect of our Bairns’ Hoose model. The Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 is also a milestone piece of legislation in the journey towards the Bairns’ Hoose model. 

Collaborative approach

A co-ordinated and collaborative approach across justice, health and children’s services, and third-sector partners will be important. Building on current good practice and improvements, across a wide range of related work-streams in children’s services, health and justice, we will work to align the Bairns’ Hoose with:

  • the GIRFEC national practice model
  • our commitment to the UNCRC and to keep The Promise

and the implementation of:

  • the revised National Child Protection Guidance 2021
  • the Clinical pathway for Children and Young People who may have experienced sexual abuse
  • the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019
  • the Forensic Medical Services (Scotland) Act 2021
  • the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019

We will also ensure that developments align with any developments relating to the proposed National Care Service, should children’s services be included.

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 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.

National Bairns’ Hoose Governance Group

The National Bairns’ Hoose Governance Group (NBHGG) will have oversight of the development of a rights-based, trauma-informed Scottish approach to delivering a national Bairns’ Hoose  model. The NBHGG is independently chaired by Val de Souza and will provide the necessary collective leadership, specialist input, strategic governance and expert challenge to promote and support the development and establishment of an evidence-based, comprehensive, child-friendly national Bairns’ Hoose model for Scotland. 

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