On 30 January 2023, the Council of Europe-European Union joint project “Support the implementation of the Barnahus project in Ireland" officially kicked off in Dublin.
Barnahus (Children's House) is the leading European response model for child sexual abuse that coordinates parallel criminal and child welfare investigations, brings all relevant services under one roof, and thus helps avoid revictimisation of the child.
The project is co-funded by the European Union via the Technical Support Instrument and the Council of Europe, and implemented by the Council of Europe in cooperation with the European Commission.
The objective of the kick-of meeting was to present the project outputs and main findings of the inception report prepared on the basis of consultations with key stakeholders and the Advisory Group, as well as to outline the Council of Europe’s project implementation dynamics.
Roderic O’Corman T.D. the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland welcomed the kick-off as an opportunity to galvanize momentum to implement the Barnahus model at a national scale and to give support to children and their families. Daniele Dotto, Deputy Director for Support to Member State reforms at DG REFORM, European Commission, underlined the importance of adapting judicial proceeding to the age and needs of children and to put the best interest of the child at the centre. Irena Guidikova, Head of the Children's Rights and Sport Values Department, Council of Europe, applauded Ireland's commitment to establish the three Barnahus sites and stated that the Council of Europe stands ready to support the national efforts. In his concluding remakrs, Simon Harris T.D., Minister for Justice of Ireland, referenced the 0 Tolerance Strategy, the links between gender-based violence and child sexual abuse and the need of strong interagency coordination to address both phenomenons.
Around 100 professionals including national representatives, Advisory Group members, social workers, police officers and staff members from the three Barnahus sites in Galway, Cork and Dublin participated in the event.
The kick-off meeting was followed by a working meeting with staff of three Barnahus sites in order to present the work of each Barnahus, and build informal and professional relationships between the different agencies and professional groups.
In 2015, Ireland successfully implemented the Children First Act, which introduced mandatory reporting for suspected cases of child abuse. It was followed by the development of a pilot Barnahus project in Galway in 2019, which became fully operational in January 2022. The goal of the European Union-Council of Europe joint project is to address the challenges encountered during the pilot project and to facilitate the opening of two additional centres: Barnahus South in Cork and Barnahus East in Dublin.
The Barnahus model was first launched in Europe in Iceland in 1998. In 2015, the Council of Europe’s Committee of the Parties to the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual abuse (Lanzarote Committee) has recognised the model as a promising practice, and since then, the Council of Europe has been supporting its member states in adapting and using it. With the Council of Europe and EU support, the first Children’s House facility was opened in May 2022 in Slovenia. Similar joint projects in Finland and Spain are ongoing.