A Scandinavian word for “children’s house”
Sometimes, Barnahus is thought to be a place where children stay, but that is seldom the case.
Barnahus works rather as a child-friendly office, under one roof, where law enforcement, criminal justice, child protective services, and medical and mental health workers cooperate and assess together the situation of the child and decide upon the follow-up.
A forensic interview and the medical examination of the child will take place, the police will investigate the situation around the alleged criminal offence and the prosecutor, judge and the lawyer of the accused will be involved. The need for short-term and long term therapeutic and family support will also be assessed. In some countries, the prosecutor will decide if it is a likely criminal offence before the child is admitted to Barnahus. In other countries, children are directly referred to Barnahus by social services or the police. If, when assessing the situation of the child, it becomes clear that the child and the family primarily need support from social services then the case will be referred to be followed up by services in the municipalities or by specialised services connected to Barnahus.
While Barnahus in Europe is inspired by the Children’s Advocacy Centres in the US, there are also distinct differences between the two approaches. The most notable differences being that the centres in the US are privately run, and children usually must be present in court.
The Icelandic Barnahus innovated on the US approach. The service was integrated into the legal and social systems of Iceland, and owned by the Government from the start. The result is a child-friendly justice approach. Instead of demanding children give their testimony in court, audio-visual recordings of forensic interviews may be used.
While the admissibility of audio-visual testimony is a key standard promoted by PROMISE, and this standard is met in many of the new services being launched across Europe, the situation among countries currently differs. Governmental ownership of the Barnahus from the beginning, as was the case in Iceland, is often a key component for meeting this standard from the start of operations.
For additional open source text about Barnahus, see wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnahus.
Key criteria for Barnahus
The Barnahus model refers to multidisciplinary and interagency interventions organised in a child-friendly setting fulfilling the following criteria:
Offers multidisciplinary and interagency interventions (Barnahus Quality Standard 5), organized under one roof in a child-friendly setting (Barnahus Quality Standard 4), placing the best interests of the child (UNCRC art 3, Barnahus Quality Standard 1.1) at the centre.
Offers each child a balanced multidisciplinary, professional and child friendly intervention, managed through joint case management and review.
Includes “four rooms” embedded in a multidisciplinary and interagency environment. Professionals from the different disciplines collaborate to provide a carefully balanced intervention that responds to the needs of each child:
- Child Protection: The Barnahus contributes to the assessment of protection needs and supports follow up concerning the child victim and siblings in the family.
- Criminal justice investigation and proceedings: The criminal investigation in Barnahus, including the forensic interview, respects the procedural safeguards of both the child and the defendant. A child-friendly forensic interview is carried out according to an evidence-based protocol by a specialised forensic interviewer to secure the best possible evidence and to protect the child from (re)traumatization. The interview is recorded and represents admissible evidence in Court.
- Medical examination and treatment: A child friendly medical evaluation is carried out by specialised and highly competent staff both for forensic investigative purposes and to ensure the child’s physical well-being and recovery by the appropriate remedy.
- Mental health examination and treatment: All children are offered a mental health assessment and appropriate support by specialised and highly competent staff, including crisis support, short and long-term therapeutic services addressing the trauma of the child and non-offending family members and caretakers.
Barnahus are formally embedded in national systems, for example the judicial system, law enforcement, health or child protection systems. Each Barnahus should be an integral part of – and contribute to – national justice and child protection systems.
Through meeting the child under one roof and in an integrated way, the Barnahus provides for coordinated, instead of parallel and overlapping, criminal and welfare procedures.
A key goal is that all Barnahus and similar services progressively develop excellence in practice according to international law and to the Barnahus Quality Standards and that there is a balanced response including all “four rooms”, embedded in a multidisciplinary and interagency environment.
Key legal obligations on assistance, protection and procedural safeguards
The laws and guidance listed below, in combination with national law and policy, elaborate the following legal obligations that Barnahus responds to:
- Avoiding repeat or secondary victimisation of victims
- Ensuring the best interests is a primary consideration
- Taking due account of the views of the child
- Identifying child victims
- Assistance and support to the victims
- Provision of information
- Right to interpretation & translation
- Individual assessment of each child’s circumstances and non-offending family members’ needs
- Safeguards relating to abuses within the “circle of trust”
- Representation where appropriate for children deprived of parental care or where their interests conflict with those of their parents
- Legal counselling and representation
- Reporting obligations
- Initiation of criminal proceedings
- Adapted procedures in investigations and judicial proceedings involving children
- No unjustified delay between the reporting of the facts and interviews take place
- Provision for medical examinations
- Interviews take place, where necessary, in premises designed or adapted for this purpose
- Interviews are carried out by or through professionals trained for this purpose
- The same persons, if possible and where appropriate, conduct all interviews with children.
- Considerations as to the gender of professionals involved in interviews in cases of sexual violence et al
- The number of interviews is as limited as possible and interviews are carried out only where strictly necessary and for the purpose of the investigations and proceedings
- Accompaniment by legal representative or where appropriate by an adult of his or her choice unless a reasoned decision has been made to the contrary in respect of that person.
- All interviews with a child victim or where appropriate a child witness, may be audio-visually recorded and that such recordings may be used as evidence in criminal court proceedings
- Possibility to order that the hearing take place without the presence of the public
- Possibility to order that the child victim be heard through the use of appropriate communication technologies
- Necessary measures to protect the privacy, identity and image of child victims and to prevent the public dissemination of any information that could lead to their identification.
- Right to avoid contact between victim and offender
- Necessary measures to find durable solutions for trafficked children
- Training & tools
- Data & monitoring
- Awareness Raising/ Prevention
- Other (compensation, non prosecution & non punishment)
Relevant laws and guidance
- Best interests – Article 3 establishes the best interest of the child as a general principle and a rule of procedure. At Barnahus, according to PROMISE Barnahus Quality Standard 1.1, the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions and decisions concerning the child and the non-offending family/caregivers/support persons.
- Right to be heard and receive information – Article 2 states that a child should in particular be provided with the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child.
- Non-discrimination – is a general principle of the UNCRC set out in article 2 and is an essential principle for the implementation of article 19 on children’s right to freedom from violence.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment no 1354
- Undue delay – In this General Comment, the Committee states that effective help requires that actions, once decided through a participatory process, must not be subject to undue delay.
Council of Europe Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice and their explanatory memorandum 2011
- Child-friendly justice – refers to justice systems which guarantee the respect the effective implementation of all children’s rights at the highest attainable level.
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