Why it's time to re-design to help our children recover

First published in the December/January edition of Children in Scotland magazine, our Chief Executive Mary Glasgow has written this comment piece in support of Children in Scotland's Manifesto for 2021-26 and its theme: 'Protecting children and young people from harm'.


Here Mary explains why we are joining Children in Scotland’s call for cross party support to implement and invest in a national approach to Barnahus for child victims and witnesses of violence.


“It is completely intolerable that the systems which are supposed to provide care and justice and protect the rights of children who have experienced crime can cause them greater trauma, harm and distress. We urge every political party to adopt Children in Scotland’s Manifesto commitment to learn from the findings of the Scottish Barnahus pilot to support children and young people who have been victims or have witnessed violence and to implement and fund a national approach to Barnahus.

Day in and day out, children tell us that instead of feeling protected by the criminal justice system in Scotland, they are let down. Designed by adults for adults and rooted in the Victorian era, Scotland’s system of justice retraumatises children. It asks them to repeatedly tell their story to a number of different professionals, involves complex and confusing procedures, long delays and compounds their trauma and distress. 

One child victim told us how intimidating it is to be asked to go to a police station. They said: “You walk in through those big automatic doors. Then there’s two doors and a big long wooden bench. So even, uncomfortable, just uncomfortable, uncomfortable to sit on, freezing because of the automatic doors, very cold and yeah, scary. Very scary, very, very scary.”
Then, when a child’s terrible journey through the justice system is complete, they are left with little or no support to recover from their experiences.
The impact can last a lifetime.

That’s why Children 1st, along with Victim Support Scotland, Children England and University of Edinburgh and £1.5m funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, are developing Britain’s first ever ‘Child’s House for Healing’,  due to open in the West of Scotland next year. 
Based on a European model of justice for children called the Barnahus – translated as “children’s house” – the Child’s House for Healing will be a child-friendly, safe and welcoming place for children to go to, as an alternative to courts, social work offices and police stations.

The Child’s House for Healing will bring health, justice, social work and recovery services under one roof.  The Scottish Barnahus pilot is supported by the Scottish Government, and local police, health and social work services who share our vision of ensuring that systems always heal and never harm. Most importantly it is a real opportunity to transform our systems of justice, care, support and recovery so that they wrap their arms around some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland, ensuring they can recover from experiences that most of us would find unimaginable. Instead of children’s lives being blighted and their futures destroyed by trauma and abuse, children will recover from their experiences and feel safe and happy again. 

As we develop the Child’s House for Healing we will use a test, learn and develop approach to show how this vision can be realised for children in every part of Scotland. This will enable the roll-out of Barnahus nationwide across the country, realising children’s rights to care, protection, justice and recovery wherever they live.

One mum summed up the difference the Child’s House for Healing will make: “I think that (having a Barnahus) would be much more helpful (emotionally) because all of the buildings we have gone to have been horrific”, she said. “Not just us but everyone after us has to experience that, at the end of the day these things are never going to be all flowers, but they can be done in a better way, for sure.”

The Scottish system, as it stands, is traumatic for children and young people to experience. Along with Children in Scotland, we urge for cross-party support for and investment in the Scottish Barnahus model, recognising the difference it will make to young victims of crime and witnesses to violence.”
The latest Children in Scotland Magazine can be viewed here or visit the Children in Scotland website.