Barnahus – what is it?

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 asses 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.