The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) has joined forces with organisations with a strong commitment to the aspirations of Bairns’ Hoose to urge the Scottish Government to work towards the inclusion of all children in the programme, regardless of whether they are child victims, child witnesses or children accused of offending behaviour.
The letter, which has been sent to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, and the Minister for Children and Young People, has been signed by 19 organisations in support of a Bairn’s Hoose for all, including those who have caused harm to others.
Bairns’ Hoose – based on the Icelandic “Barnahus” model – will bring together children’s 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 different professionals.
Written by CYCJ’s Director Fiona Dyer, the letter states:
“Scotland has a long tradition of responding to children in trouble in the same justice system, no matter the reason for the need for intervention in their lives. Both the Children’s Hearing System and our system of secure care support children who are victims, witnesses, accused and involved in offending behaviours. Evidence presented by countries who have introduced Barnahus highlighted that its success was because of its close alignment with the policies and culture that already existed. One example of this is the zero tolerance of violence against children and a longstanding commitment to keeping children out of formal courts. The evidence suggests that in establishing Barnahus in other European countries, it was most likely to be successful if aligned to existing practice, policies and culture.
“From a Scottish perspective, we are developing a more progressive, rights-based approach to youth justice building on the Kilbrandon principles of needs not deeds, and the national assessment and planning framework of Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC). Having a system or approach that views children who offend differently, stigmatising them as ‘bad children,’ rather than being viewed as victims themselves who also require care and protection, would fail the very children that need our care and support. It is essential that Bairns’ Hoose approach strengthens this long tradition of focusing on the child, their needs and rights, regardless of their actions.
“The inclusion of any child under the age of 18 who requires the services and supports of Bairns’ Hoose, would be in line with Scotland’s commitment to deliver a ‘revolution in children’s rights’ through the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law. Children who are accused of offending behaviour are often in the most vulnerable situations and are often victims and witnesses themselves, having experienced abuse, neglect or trauma and adversity in their childhoods. The UN Committee’s General Comment on children’s rights in the child justice system is clear that States should “safeguard children’s rights from the moment of contact with the [justice] system”. The Council of Europe Guidelines on Child Friendly Justice are clear that all children, “be they a party to proceedings, a victim, a witness or an offender” should benefit from a “children first” approach which fosters “a holistic approach to the child, based on concerted multidisciplinary working methods”. The guidelines provide a clear rights-based framework that gives full consideration of the rights of children as victims, witnesses or accused of offending, across all systems of administrative, civil and criminal justice that children are involved in. This means the Bairns’ Hoose, as part of the civil and criminal justice systems under Scots law, must afford all children parity of human rights safeguards and meet the standards of child-friendly justice.
“There is a potential for injustice or discrimination if we support some children through the Scottish justice systems by enabling them to access Bairns’ Hoose, whilst others are potentially denied their right to support and guidance, and left to do so in the context of the adult criminal court system with insufficient recognition or adjustments made to respect their status and special rights as children.”