‘Stop to Listen’ is a new national partnership project led by Children 1st. It aims to drive improvement in how our child protection system responds when instances of child sexual abuse or exploitation come to light. Project manager Ruth Sills explains.
Welcome to the Barnehus, or ‘children’s house,’ in Oslo. The décor is designed to put children at ease, and there toys and soft furnishings to slouch into. It’s a far cry from a courtroom, or a doctor’s surgery, but it has more in common with these settings than appearances would suggest. Because the purpose of the Barnehus is to provide a better service for child victims of abuse: by putting medical examinations, judicial interviews and support to recover from trauma offered to them under one roof.
Professionals working in the Barnehus come from across the disciplines. There’s the police officer, who has been specially trained in interviewing children. The judge, who from a separate room observes interviews with children, over real-time video. The psychologist, who monitors children’s mental health during interviews and ensures they have only to tell their story once. The doctors and nurses, who in a specially equipped room assess children’s medical needs and – if necessary – document injuries for evidence. And the specialists who support children’s recovery from the trauma that abuse causes, and whose services are offered to every child as a matter of course.
It’s part of my job to gather and share learning from places such as the Barnehus with colleagues in our four Stop to Listen pathfinder areas: Perth and Kinross, Renfrewshire, Glasgow and North Ayrshire. They are professionals from across the statutory services; police, social work, education and health, and from the third sector. They’ve signed up to the pathfinder projects because they know that there’s room for improvement in how we in Scotland respond when child sexual abuse or exploitation comes to light. They know, because survivors of abuse have told us that when professionals learned of their abuse what happened next wasn’t always ideal: they felt they’d lost control, that things moved too quickly, that they weren’t given the support they needed, that they were left too much in the dark. And because of evidence that often children live with abuse for many years before they feel able to tell.
In each pathfinder area I’ve found professionals to be really open to reassessing their working practices and culture. It’s hugely encouraging. The next stage will be for our pathfinders to identify what needs to change, and how. My role is to facilitate that process, and ensure they have the information they need to decide what actions to take.
The changes might initially be small – little tweaks to ways of working, but with a cumulative big impact. And just maybe this could lead to a Scottish Barnehus, although as Scotland has a different structures and legal system to Norway we can’t assume it will be right for us. Also what will work in a large predominantly rural area such as Perth and Kinross may well differ from what will succeed in densely populated urban Glasgow. Whatever solutions our pathfinders decide to test I’ll work with them to ensure we can properly measure and evaluate their effectiveness.
As ‘Stop to Listen’ is about exploration and shared commitment it is a first step towards transforming how professionals and agencies respond to child sexual abuse and exploitation. The learning from the pathfinder areas will be an invaluable aid to that process.