Ireland’s first multi-agency service for children who have been sexually abused has been launched.
The Barnahus, Onehouse Galway project brings together forensic, child protection, medical, therapeutic and policing services in one place.
It involves three government departments – the Department of Children, Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality – who will work with Tusla, the HSE and An Garda Siochana.
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone said the need for a “sensitive, joined up service” for victims of child sexual abuse has been recognised for a long time.
The launch of Barnahus, Onehouse Galway is a significant occasion. It's the first multi-agency service developed to respond to children who have suffered sexual abuse,providing an integrated service organised around the needs of children & their families @DCYAPress @merrionstreet pic.twitter.com/Uyds42slQg— Katherine Zappone (@k_zappone) September 16, 2019
“Identifying an appropriate model for this type of service was an important step in setting the foundation for the new service,” she said.
“I myself travelled to New York with Dr Geoffrey Shannon, where we visited a child advocacy service providing the key services required.”
Initially, the new Galway service will provide a shared service to children in its catchment area of Galway and Roscommon.
It is expected that when centres are fully developed across the country, it will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of child sexual abuse services for children who have suffered from sexual abuse.
Ms Zappone said: “One of the most appealing aspects of the Barnahus model is the child-centredness of the approach.
“All the key services are brought together under one roof, reducing the need for children to repeat their trauma as they engage with multiple agencies. It also allows families to be supported in caring for their child throughout a difficult process.
Ministers @CharlieFlanagan and @KZapponeTD at the Launch of OneHouse Barnahus Galway Pilot Project this morning - a multi-agency collaborative model to support and protect victims of child sexual abuse. Minister Flanaganâs speech can be read here https://t.co/PBQNH686Qm pic.twitter.com/nGRCMtMzHS— Department of Justice & Equality (@DeptJusticeIRL) September 16, 2019
“The professionals working in this area are fully aware of the challenges they face in providing a safe environment for disclosure, protection, prosecution, and healing for all members of the family to take place.
“It is for this reason that we want to create the structures to support professionals to focus on the child’s experience.
“The Barnahus, Onehouse Galway project can serve as a model for a more extensive national service.
“This will take time and commitment at the service delivery level and at the departmental level.”
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the bodies involved will overlap and work together.
It cannot be ignored that a particularly traumatic outcome of sexual abuse is often the interaction between the victim and the criminal justice systemCharlie Flanagan
He added: “Our response as a state and as a community to sexual violence has evolved in recent years.
“We now recognise its impact and the trauma it can cause. And so the law and policies relating to sexual offending and the victims of sexual violence have increasingly reflected the special harm caused by this type of offending and the dedicated response which is required to address it and to reduce victimisation.
“It cannot be ignored that a particularly traumatic outcome of sexual abuse is often the interaction between the victim and the criminal justice system.
“Responding to the needs of victims has seen the rolling out by the Garda Commissioner of divisional protective services units (DPSUs) in each Garda division.
“These units have specially trained officers responsible for engaging with and interviewing victims.
“They will support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, for adults and children alike.”