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Children’s Commissioner for England says Icelandic ‘Barnahus’ approach could double convictions of child sexual abuse in West Yorkshire

Anne Longfield has teamed up with West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner to explore the potential for a pilot ‘Barnahus’ or ‘Children’s House’ in West Yorkshire, to help victims of child sexual abuse.

She chaired a meeting last week (Thursday 8 September)  – attended by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office, the police, the NHS and local authority directors of children’s services – to look at the possibility of establishing a Barnahus. 

Barnahus have been operating in Iceland since 1998. When child abuse is suspected all of the services for victims are provided under one roof. These include the forensic interview, medical examination and child/family therapy.

The Children’s Commissioner is urging all Police and Crime Commissioners to establish a Children's House or 'Barnahus' in their area. Two pilots have so far been proposed in London and one in Durham.

The introduction of a ‘Barnahus’ in Iceland in 1998 resulted in the number of convictions for child sexual abuse increasing dramatically from 49 between 1995 and 1997 to 101 between 2011 and 2013. There is evidence that the approach minimises the trauma caused to children as they give evidence to a trained psychotherapist within days of reporting abuse and therefore do not have to recount their experiences of abuse multiple times to different professionals as part of evidence gathering. The majority will quickly have access to therapy rather than waiting many months and even years in this country.

The Barnahus approach has been so successful in tackling child abuse in Iceland that it is now use in Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “The Barnahus approach has doubled convictions, and improved access to therapy for victims.

“This is a highly significant meeting. Many hundreds of thousands of children in England are abused and we need to get much better at identifying these children and supporting them afterwards.

“When it is suspected that a child has been sexually abused they currently often have to be interviewed many times by the police, social workers and medical professionals in an attempt to gather evidence so that a case can go to trial. It is a complex, gruelling process which often breaks down and which can take many months. This can be incredibly traumatising to the child and may delay their access to therapeutic support.

“The Barnahus approach has proved to be incredibly successful and I hope that it will be trialled in Yorkshire and beyond, as well as other Police authorities around England.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said “I constantly review the support available to victims and it is crucial that the services for children and young people who have experienced these horrendous crimes are appropriate and consistently available throughout West Yorkshire. Working in partnership is vital in tackling child sexual exploitation and I am looking forward to the discussions with the Children’s Commissioner to determine whether the ‘Barnahus’ model may be something we can implement in West Yorkshire by working closely with our partners.”

Read the Commissioner's report: Barnahus: Improving the response to child sexual abuse in England

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