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The Barnahus Model — Putting Human Rights at the Heart of our Justice System

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The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP), at its heart, has always been an advocate for approaching important policies in a human rights-based way. This approach has led to policies that will make a direct, positive impact on young people’s lives in Scotland through the incorporation of the UNCRC, free bus travel for young people, and more.

Recently, the Justice Committee introduced a motion, which passed with 88% of MSYPs agreeing, focusing on a rights-based approach for young people in the justice system by advocating for the implementation of the Barnahus model into Scots law.  The Motion says:

“The Scottish Youth Parliament calls on the Scottish Government to implement the ‘Barnahus’ model of supporting all children and young people through the justice system, giving them a person-centred environment in which to give evidence, and receive medical examinations, counselling and therapy.”

In support of this Motion, a Member of the Justice Committee said:

“Children who are going through court are likely to have experience of trauma. We need the justice system to be more trauma informed and this is one step along the way.”

What is the Barnahus Model?

The word ‘Barnahus’ is an Icelandic word meaning Child’s House. It was created as a way to better support young people in the justice system.

The model itself is a “multi-disciplinary approach”[1] that makes sure young people in the justice system are consistently at the heart of it, alongside judgments and care. This means that the justice system would have to constantly make sure that they are doing everything within the best interest of children and young people and with their perspectives in mind, adhering to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Barnahus model would provide everything these young people need in one place, or “house”; one singular centre for them to access instead of having to go to different places that may or may not provide the best approach in supporting children. It brings everything together to make the process as easy and supportive as possible.

This would encompass[2]:

  • Physical Health (paediatrics and gynecology);
  • Protection (social welfare);
  • Criminal Investigation (police and prosecutors);
  • Mental Health (therapists, social welfare, recovery, support)

Everyone at the Barnahus would be specifically trained and educated on how best to support the recovery and limit the trauma a young person would normally experience in the current system. This would mean that they would be supported throughout, from the time they first report until they no longer have need of the services.

What happens next?

Currently, Children 1st are working on bringing this model to life within the Scottish legal system through campaigning efforts and taking forward the first pilot of a Barnahus in Glasgow. This has already led the SNP to commit to ensuring that every child has access to what they are calling a ‘bairns’ hoose’ by 2025. As a rights-based organisation, SYP’s Justice Committee will be supporting efforts to ensure this commitment is realised, or as another Member of the Committee said:

“It’s in the best interests of the child and is underpinned by some of the fundamental rights within the UNCRC, such as article 3. Let’s join the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in supporting this.”

Ultimately, the Barnahus model would create an entirely rights-based approach to how we care for young people in the justice system, limiting the amount of trauma they would normally endure and setting them up for healthy and healing futures ahead.


[1] Children 1st, 2018. Trauma-Free Justice, Care and Protection for Scotland’s Children: Learning from the Barnahus approach | https://www.children1st.org.uk/media/6701/trauma-free-justice-care-and-protection-for-scotlands-children.pdf.

[2] Children 1st, 2018. What is the Barnahus? Model graphic.

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