Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Seòmar agus comataidhean

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


Bairns’ Hoose

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10262, in the name of Rona Mackay, on the opening of Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament expresses its delight at the establishment of the first Bairns’ Hoose in Scotland, providing children in north Strathclyde who are the victims or witnesses of abuse or violence with access to protection, care and recovery services under one roof, and improving the way that they are dealt with within the Scottish justice system; understands that the first Bairns’ Hoose will support children, young people and members of their family from East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire; commends the charity, Children 1st, which has led the way in ensuring the development of Scotland’s first Bairns’ Hoose, supported by the partners, Victim Support Scotland, the University of Edinburgh, Children England and the Postcode Dream Fund, which is made possible by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery; believes that Bairns’ Hoose is based on an alternative model first developed in Iceland, called Barnahus; notes that the space has been designed in collaboration with children and young people for children and young people, and includes calming wall colours, soft and comfortable furnishings, and a safe and secure garden, which will offer breathing space for those who need it; further notes the inclusion of high-quality technical facilities, including space to record evidence and deliver live links to court within a nurturing environment, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that all children who have experienced harm as a result of abuse or violence will have access to a Bairns’ Hoose.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Members’ business debates often highlight crisis or serious issues that generate political division and rancour. I am therefore overjoyed and honoured to bring a genuine good-news story to the chamber, one of which Scotland, and Scotland’s Government and partner organisations, can be very proud.

The opening of Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose last month means that we can at last reform how children and young people are treated by the justice system. It is an enormous and joyous achievement, and marks a whole new way of supporting young people who find themselves in our justice system, which is traditionally designed for and by adults. That is because the bairns’ hoose has been designed in collaboration with children and young people for children and young people, and includes calming wall colours, soft and comfortable furnishings, and a safe and secure garden, which will offer breathing space for those who need it.

Before I go on to describe more about the background to the birth of the bairns’ hoose, I would like members to listen to a quote from Jasmin, who is now 18. When visiting Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose in north Strathclyde, she said:

“When I went to court, I had to sit in an empty box room with no windows, no sweets or anything and a few broken toys. I was 9 years old. If you’re coming from dealing with something terrible you don’t want to come to somewhere broken when you already feel broken. It’s good to know kids can come to the Bairns Hoose and it’s a safe place.”

There are so many people to thank for making this innovative project a reality. Huge congratulations must go to Children 1st and the many third sector organisations that led the way in this fantastic initiative, in conjunction with the Scottish Government. They were supported by Victim Support Scotland, the University of Edinburgh, Children England and £1.5 million from the Postcode Dream Fund, which is made possible by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

In the previous session of Parliament, the former Justice Committee, of which I was a member—I am a member of the present Criminal Justice Committee—visited the barnahus in Norway. It is safe to say that all members were blown away by what we witnessed. This was a world away from an intimidating court room, full of scary adults and old stuff. All the care and support that a child and their family need is delivered under one roof in a welcoming and safe environment. Legal and medical professionals come to them, not the other way round.

I am delighted to say that the first bairns’ hoose will support children, young people and members of their family from my local authority area of East Dunbartonshire, as well as from the local authority areas of East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire.

On 1 November, the barnahus in Iceland will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Children 1st supported a delegation from Scotland to visit Iceland in 2017, which directly led to the bairns’ hoose opening, and the work of the European Promise Barnahus Network, which is a network that connects European practice to develop and commit to the barnahus quality standards.

For context, in the past year, the Children 1st bairns’ hoose recovery team has supported 104 children in 90 families going through the child protection and justice system in north Strathclyde. Now that the hoose is open, it will be used as the new centre for that work. Young people who experience abuse and violence will be able to get all the protection, care, justice and recovery support that they need under one roof. Crucially, they can avoid the need to repeatedly share their story.

At the moment, children who experience hurt and harm are processed through a complex system of care and justice, and are asked to retell and relive traumatic experiences—sometimes up to 14 times. The process creates stand-alone trauma. We cannot always stop bad things happening to children and young people, but we can do everything in our power to help them to recover and heal.

Why do we need a bairns’ hoose? It is a place where children and young people are interviewed and medically examined for forensic purposes, assessed and receive recovery services from the right people all in one place. It is a trauma-informed space, designed to reduce feelings of anxiousness, fear and a lack of support and control that are often associated with victims and witnesses’ experiences of the justice system.

Sadly, the scale of harm that children and young people in Scotland experience is significant. At least 37 per cent of the 14,602 sexual crimes that the police recorded in 2022-23 related to a victim under 18. Exhausting delays in cases mean that fear and anticipation surrounding going to court can last for years, and repeated adjournments mean that anxiety and stress build up repeatedly before a court date. Children and families tell us that court buildings feel unsafe and untrustworthy. Giving evidence in court can be brutal for adults—imagine what it is like for a child.

One of the major aims of the bairns’ hoose is to support the gathering of high-quality pre-recorded evidence that can be used in court, so that the number of times that children have to tell their story can be reduced as far as possible. It has advanced technical facilities, including space to record evidence and to deliver live links to court. The high-quality set-up should remove the need for children to attend court at all, which, of course, is the aim.

Children and young people have the right to recovery. Article 39 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have this right, but it often gets lost in traditional child protection and justice processes.

The Scottish Government committed in the programme for government to launch bairns’ hoose pathfinders this autumn, which will support new work and partnerships to develop among agencies. There is a strong commitment across police, justice, health, social work and third sector leaders to deliver this transformation, which will realise children’s rights to justice and recovery. However, we must ensure that children have the option to pre-record evidence or have a live link to court.

The launch of bairns’ hoose is not just an event; it is a promise that we will treat children and young people who have been abused and traumatised with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

In conclusion, let us remember the words of Nelson Mandela, who said:

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

I offer my congratulations to all those who have worked so hard to make the bairns’ hoose possible. Together, let us continue to nurture and protect our most precious asset: our children.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I thank Rona Mackay for bringing this timeous debate to the chamber, and for highlighting the establishment of the first bairns’ hoose in Scotland, located in north Strathclyde. We could almost feel her sense of sheer delight when she made her opening remarks, and rightly so. The implementation of Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose is welcome, and I know that it will support and benefit the children and families who might, one day, use its services.

As has already been highlighted, the bairns’ hoose seeks to protect children who come into contact with the criminal justice system after having experienced, participated in or witnessed significantly harmful behaviour. Through minimising children’s engagement with the courts, and by creating a more welcoming and therapeutic environment with access to specialist services, children are supported to recover from the traumatic events that they have endured.

Indeed, Iceland’s barnahus model—the model that our bairns’ hoose approach is based on—consistently demonstrates positive outcomes, including less risk of a child becoming retraumatised from having to recount their experiences. The barnahus environment is far more favourable than that of a police station or court, and the model has seen an improvement in the conviction rate for child sexual abuse cases.

There are many ways in which children can enter the justice system—perhaps through civil proceedings such as adoption, or even through matters involving immigration—and each case can be difficult for a child to navigate. Although those cases can be harmful for children, there is none that places a child more at risk than those involving violence and abuse. Therefore, in a modern justice environment, the barnahus model has an important role to play.

Reflecting on my experience as an investigator of serious and complex sexual crimes, some involving children, I can see that progress has already been made. I recall how excited we were when Grampian Police decided to decorate a room for children on the fourth floor of police headquarters. We put in a sofa and soft lighting, along with a box of toys, and we were proud of what we felt was a first step towards a multi-agency response to child sexual offences. Recently, I found a copy of a report that I co-wrote following a review of child protection services in Grampian Police in 2006, and I was slightly bemused to read that it said that

“the concept of joint working should be borne in mind during any future expansion of Family Protection services, thus enabling partners to co-locate alongside police. This could be as simple as factoring in some spare office accommodation and car parking facilities”.

I am glad to confirm that a lot of progress has been made since then.

Members will be aware that Scotland’s approach to investigating allegations of child sexual abuse has more recently been informed by Lady Dorrian’s report, “Improving the Management of Sexual Offence Cases”. The bairns’ hoose model aligns with the recommendations in that report, which highlights the importance of improving the experience of children in the justice system.

I am pleased that, as Rona Mackay said, the programme for government includes the launch of a bairns’ hoose pathfinder as part of the work to develop a whole-system approach for children experiencing abuse and harm. Of course, the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill will see further reform to improve the experiences of victims and witnesses, including children, across the criminal justice system.

I look forward to following the progress of the newly opened bairns’ hoose, and to the model being further developed across Scotland, in line with our commitment to improving the experiences of children in the criminal justice system.

I once again thank Rona Mackay for bringing this important topic to the chamber, and I look forward to listening to members’ speeches.


Roz McCall (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I welcome the motion and I thank Rona Mackay for bringing it to the chamber this evening.

The opening of Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose indeed provides a welcome addition to the judicial process, and I sincerely hope that we will see more of those facilities open all over Scotland. I want to take a moment to mention Children 1st, Victim Support Scotland, the University of Edinburgh, Children England and all the participants in the Postcode Lottery for their backing and for their help to make this dream of a secure and safe place for children, young people and families a reality.

In what is the most traumatic of experiences during the most distressing and disturbing of times, a calming and safe environment with children and young people at its heart is indeed a great step forward.

Imagine a mum sitting in the gallery of a courtroom, watching her daughter recount the harrowing and disturbing events that took place over two-and-a-half years ago when she was 17. That experience has been with her every day of the two-and-half years that she has waited for the case to come to trial. It is the fourth date that she has been given by the courts—there has always been some reason for the trial to be postponed, prolonging her anxiety and adding to her torment. Her mum knows that she has had to recount the story again and again over the years, in back rooms of police stations and in council offices, which, with the best will in the world, are gloomy, oppressive and sparse—places where the grey of her emotions blends with the feelings in the room.

Her mother also knows that she feels humiliated, disgusted with herself and ashamed that she is once again forced to relive the events of that night, thinking about what was forced on her, what she would now do differently if she could only go back, and how she must now own up to what society has made her feel is at least partially her fault. Her mother knows that she will have to stand there while the defence indicates that the events did not happen, implying to everyone that she is a liar, and she knows that the chances that justice will be served are slim at best.

Her mother watches her usually strong, self-assured, beautiful daughter start to flick the hair band on her wrist—a nervous twitch from when she was a child—and then crumble and break down on the stand. There is absolutely nothing that she can do to help her. Her daughter is standing not more than a few feet away from the accused, and the screen is doing nothing more than blocking a view. However, her mother can see from her actions that that is not minimising the effect that is caused by the person being in the room. As a parent, her mother would do anything to make that better. If only every step of the process was just made that little bit better.

That is why facilities such as the bairns’ hoose are important. Being able to use a safe space to give evidence, knowing that the process is as good as it can possibly be under the circumstances and providing a secure foundation towards recovery and moving on with a positive life must be the goal—secure accommodation is only part of it. We in this place must ensure that additional support for victims and witnesses is included in all processes if that goal is to be achieved.

I sincerely hope that this is the start not only of the establishment of more bairns’ hooses across Scotland but of a proper shift in the way that our judicial system views its victims, especially young and vulnerable ones, because that is the only way that the scales of justice will be rebalanced.


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Rona Mackay on securing this important debate and warmly welcome her initiative, which has led to this issue being debated in the chamber today. I also want to place on record my thanks to Victim Support Scotland, Children 1st and the other organisations that have been involved in the opening of Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose.

As Rona Mackay has already mentioned in the debate, the bairns’ hoose model is based on Iceland’s renowned model, and seeks to bring the needs of child victims and witnesses together with justice, health, social work and recovery support services at a single point of contact.

As an MSP for the West Scotland region, I, like Rona Mackay, am pleased that the first bairns’ hoose will be supporting child victims and witnesses in East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire. However, it is crucial that all eligible children are able to access such facilities, so that they can have access to the trauma-informed support that the model provides. I look forward to seeing how the bairns’ hoose develops and to hearing about its effect on outcomes. I would be grateful if the minister could today provide an update, and commit to future parliamentary updates, on the progress that is being made towards widening access to such facilities and other initiatives that enable child victims and witnesses to access trauma-informed practices.

Ahead of today’s debate, Victim Support Scotland reiterated its concern that some local authorities may choose to use the bairns’ hoose as a place of safety for a child who has caused harm. If that were the case, it could increase the risk of retraumatising victims and witnesses, including child victims, undermining the very purpose of the bairns’ hoose as a service. Therefore, I would be grateful if the minister could respond to the concerns that are being raised and address the reason why Victim Support Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to guarantee that no bairns’ hoose in Scotland will be used as a place of safety under the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019. I hope that the minister will give that guarantee today and outline how the Scottish Government will establish the trauma-informed support service that is required for children who have caused harm but also ensure that the needs of other victims are addressed.

The bairns’ hoose is a key part of improving the experiences of child victims and witnesses in Scotland’s justice system, but we all recognise that it is not the sole solution to the problem. That is why many stakeholders have raised concerns about the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill that is being scrutinised by Parliament. The concern is that the bill lacks provision to ensure that support and information are in place for victims who have been harmed by children and that it could create an imbalance between the rights of the child who has caused harm and the rights of the child victim. There also issues in the bill with regard to the lack of information-sharing provisions and the lack of safety planning and risk management measures.

As the minister will know, a number of stakeholders, including Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland and Women’s Aid, have come together to suggest a number of changes to the bill. I urge the Scottish Government, in responding to the debate, to seriously consider what is being said and ensure that the legislation truly delivers an improved experience for child victims and witnesses in Scotland.

The bairns’ hoose alone will not transform the experience of child victims and witnesses in Scotland, but it is a very important development that I warmly welcome. For that reason, I associate myself with Rona Mackay’s words and those of all the other members who have spoken in the debate and again congratulate all those who have been involved in the opening of Scotland’s first bairns’ hoose.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I congratulate Roz McCall on a hugely and profoundly moving contribution, which illustrates the fact that this is a debate that comes from a dark place. However, we hope that, as Rona Mackay indicated, it provides some cause for optimism that we are moving in the right direction. I also pay tribute to my good friend Rona Mackay for her personal efforts on securing the debate and on this particular issue. She and I were members of the Justice Committee in the previous parliamentary session, and I like to think that we played our part in making strides to where we are today by highlighting the benefits of the barnahus model, building the evidence base for that and making the compelling case to Government.

Rona Mackay referred to the trip that the committee made to Norway to see first hand the barnahus model in practice. That experience had a profound effect on us all and developed the cross-party commitment to apply what pressure we could on the Government to deliver that. There might be a perception now that we were pushing against an open door, but I know that there were concerns at that stage about how transferable that joined-up multidisciplinary approach across child protection, justice, health and recovery service was to a Scottish context. Audrey Nicoll spoke to that from her personal experience. There is absolutely no doubt that, although the needs of the Scottish context needed to be taken into account, the model could be rolled out in Scotland.

Reference was made previously to the Dorrian review. Let me put on the record my gratitude to Lord Carloway for the earlier review that was undertaken in 2013, which paved the way and made the argument that

“taking the evidence of young and vulnerable witnesses requires special care, and that subjecting them to the traditional adversarial form of examination and cross-examination is no longer acceptable.”

That is now the received wisdom and we are in a different place 10 years on. We also passed the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act in 2014, which put in place pre-recording and other protections.

We cannot, however, be complacent. The University of Edinburgh report on the first stage of the current project indicates that children are still being asked to go to court in almost all cases, which is a real concern. Moving away from court-based evidence will require a culture shift that will need people to change their habits and trust new processes. There was strong support for that in the Justice Committee in the previous parliamentary session, and I have no doubt that Rona Mackay and her colleagues will be equally supportive of it going forward.

In the past, there could be no justice in a system in which victims report that their experiences of that system were worse than the experience of the crime itself. For children and young victims, telling and retelling what happened to them over and over again simply retraumatises them. Doing that in environments that are inappropriate, unfriendly and even adversarial makes it many times worse, further harming rather than healing. I am therefore delighted that the project is being taken forward in north Strathclyde, and I join other members in congratulating Children 1st, Victim Support Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and Children England, and I give thanks to the Postcode Lottery for the funding that is enabling it to happen.

The approach puts the needs and rights of children and young people at the centre of the child protection and justice process and, as Children 1st acknowledges, although it is not always possible to stop bad things happening, we should be moving mountains to help children and young victims to recover.

I recognise that we are probably a long way from achieving the complete roll-out by 2025—Victim Support Scotland referred to that in its briefing—but it is perhaps another example of where the Government needs to be careful in not underestimating the complexities and overpromising what can be delivered. Learning as we go from the roll-out of the model is the right approach, but I want to see the initiative rolled out more widely. I am particularly keen to see progress made on identifying how it might be made to work in our island communities, for example. Different approaches were demonstrated on the visit to Norway, and they are often needed in our urban and rural areas. The needs of children and young people might not be different, but the way in which they are met will almost certainly look and feel slightly different. I would therefore be grateful if, in her winding-up speech, the minister could indicate if and when we might expect this sort of development to take place in our island and rural communities.

For now, I congratulate Rona Mackay once again, and wish all the partners who are involved in the project the very best of luck.


Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I take the opportunity, as other members rightly have, to commend Rona Mackay for securing today’s debate. I also thank all those who are involved in the development of Scotland’s first bairn’s hoose as mentioned in today’s motion, as well as the Scottish Government for its support and commitment to ensuring that such a transformational approach to child welfare is rolled out nationally.

The vision is for all children in Scotland who have been victims of or witnesses to abuse or violence, as well as children who are under the age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour has perhaps caused significant harm or abuse, to have access to trauma-informed recovery, support and justice. The need for such a service is evident when we consider that more than one third of the 14,000 incidents of recorded sexual crimes in 2022-23 related to a victim under the age of 18.

It has been pointed out that, at the moment, children who experience hurt and harm can sometimes be processed through what can be seen as a complex system of care and justice in which they can be asked to retell or relive traumatic experiences many times over.

One of the stated aims of the bairns’ hoose model is to prevent children from being retraumatised and to improve the experience of the justice process for children and families, and one of the ways in which many stakeholders believe that that can be achieved is through bairns’ hooses becoming a one-stop location for the number of services that are needed to support a victim’s journey. The Scottish Government’s literature echoes that possibility. It states:

“A key element of Bairns’ Hoose is provision of a child-friendly setting which supports an integrated approach as part of the team around the child. Bairns’ Hoose ... will bring together services in a ‘four rooms’ approach with child protection, health, justice and recovery services available in one setting ... in line with the”

getting it right for every child

“practice model and national guidance for child protection in Scotland.”

As a member of the Education, Children and Young People Committee, I welcome those aims. In stage 1 evidence sessions on the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill and in discussions that I have subsequently had with stakeholders, the bairns’ hoose model has been held up as a model that could address some of the concerns that organisations have about overcomplexity within the system and the need for more efficient information sharing.

In its stage 1 report, the committee reflected those points and recognised the Government’s commitment

“to roll out the Bairns’ Hoose model for all child victims and witnesses of violence.”

However, it went on to say:

“The Committee notes that stakeholders are unclear as to how this Bill will align with the Bairns’ Hoose model roll out and asks the Scottish Government to clarify how these measures will work together.”

Although I appreciate that we are at the very early stages of the Government’s pathfinder delivery plan and full roll-out, which is scheduled from 2027, I ask the minister to reflect on how the model can be integrated into legislation that is currently going through Parliament to address any concerns, unleash the full potential of the bairns’ hoose model and ensure that it is truly transformational. I know that we can trust the Scottish Government to follow up on that.


John Swinney (Perthshire North) (SNP)

I congratulate my colleague Rona Mackay on securing this debate, which provides Parliament with the opportunity to reflect on the significant moment that has been reached with the establishment of the first bairns’ hoose in Scotland. Rona Mackay’s personal, undiluted enthusiasm for that has been demonstrated powerfully in the debate, and that point has been reflected in the contributions of colleagues across the parliamentary chamber.

This is a moment that has been reached due to the tenacity of many campaigners who have been determined to ensure that, when children face the most difficult of times, which they should never, ever have had to face, they can be supported effectively in being able to address that suffering.

The bairns’ hoose is being taken forward by a partnership that is led by Children 1st and which involves Victim Support Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and Children England. Crucial funding of £1.5 million has been provided by the People’s Postcode Lottery. In welcoming the participation of each partner, I hope that others will forgive me if I single out the exceptional contribution of Children 1st in ensuring that the milestone has been reached. From my ministerial experience, I vividly recall the energy and commitment given by Children 1st to generate interest in, and support for, the concept of a bairns’ hoose.

Modelled on the European barnahus model, the bairns’ hoose means that children and young people who experience abuse and violence will be able to get all the protection, care, justice and recovery support that they will need under one roof. The proposal will support children and young people in East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire.

Children 1st has been so tenacious in taking forward the idea for the simple reason that the proposal puts the child right at the heart of the approach. The model aims to avoid the current situation in which children often have to recount their experiences on a number of occasions, when it has been bad enough that they have had to experience the circumstances once. The aim of the model is to ensure that all the support that a child needs can be based around the child. It puts the child right at the centre of the process, and assures that the support is brought to the child rather than children having to join the dots of a compartmentalised, adult-designed justice system. How many constituents in that particular position have we all supported?

The way in which the project has developed sets out an important lesson for us about how reforms can and should take place in our society. Although the Scottish Government has been a very supportive party in this endeavour—I am delighted that it has been so supportive—the initiative has rested with the third sector, principally through the work of Children 1st. The need for reform has been identified and championed by the third sector. I hope that the Scottish Government and Scotland’s local authorities will recognise the absolute necessity of being open to this type of initiative, of creating the space to enable such ventures to thrive and, crucially—I say this quite bluntly—of not getting in the way of such reforms into the bargain. Space must be left for the third sector to use its initiative to find a route through some of the obstacles and barriers that inevitably crop up in engaging with the public sector. The bairns’ hoose is a spectacular example of that in practice, and I congratulate everyone who has played a part in making it happen.


The Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise (Natalie Don)

I thank Rona Mackay for lodging her important motion and all members for their contributions. I welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate on behalf of the Scottish Government.

I begin by sharing our support for the motion and our recognition of the significance of the milestone of the opening of the facility in north Strathclyde, which I know is the culmination of many years of hard work by a range of partners. I congratulate them on that fantastic achievement. Through the service, children in north Strathclyde who are the victims or witnesses of abuse or violence will be able to access protection, care and recovery services under one roof.

I am aware that the Scottish Government’s funding for engagement work with children and young people with lived experience of the child protection and justice systems—the changemakers—has played a central role in the design of the facility. As Ms Mackay has described, in her motion and in her speech, that has led to the creation of a child-friendly nurturing environment. I thank Ms Mackay for her comments. I think that the quote from Jasmin that she shared emphasises that that is definitely the right approach for children and young people in Scotland. I put on record my thanks to all the children and young people who have been involved, and I look forward to visiting the site in the coming weeks to see the fruits of their commitment.

Bringing the barnahus model to Scotland has been a long-standing cross-cutting policy ambition for a number of years, and one that Children 1st has long championed. As has been mentioned, several years ago, it organised a study visit to see the barnahus in Iceland. Among those who took part in the visit was my predecessor and colleague Michael Matheson, the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Since then, through engagement with partners across agencies and the Scottish Government, it has built a compelling case for the need for a bairns’ hoose in Scotland. Children 1st has been a key partner in the development of national bairns’ hoose standards, and it sits on the national bairns’ hoose governance group.

Our vision for bairns’ hoose is that all children in Scotland who have been victims or witnesses of abuse or violence, as well as children under the age of criminal responsibility whose behaviour has caused significant harm or abuse, will have access to trauma-informed recovery, support and justice. When we look at other European countries that have already adopted the model, we can see that that scope of access is ambitious. I assure members that a key consideration in the development of bairns’ hoose that will be taken into account as the policy is developed will be balancing the rights of victims and those of children whose behaviour has caused harm.

The bairns’ hoose model will build on the momentum of the new Scottish child interview model for joint investigative interviews that is being introduced nationally from 2021 to 2024, which will be seen as the justice room of the bairns’ hoose. A key aim of the Scottish child interview model, which has been supported by more than £2 million of funding from the Scottish Government, is to protect children and reduce stress when recounting their experiences. I note John Swinney’s comments on the difference that that will make to the lives of children, and I thank Roz McCall for her moving contribution, which, while being extremely difficult to listen to, served to remind us why settings such as the bairns’ hoose are so important and to highlight the difference that the steps that we take now will make to the lives of victims of harm.

Growing evidence is already showing the benefits of the new model in practice. For example, interviewers in the north-east Scotland partnership were able to use their specialist training to support a non-verbal child with complex needs to share details of their abusive experience for the first time. The new model for joint investigative interviews allows for partners to create bespoke plans for children’s individual needs, resulting in improved experiences. There are many similar examples emerging of that momentous change in practice across Scotland.

I know that Katy Clarke wanted an update on progress, and I will give that now. I am also happy to keep the member and Parliament updated as matters progress. We have introduced a three-phased approach for the development of bairns’ hoose, which builds in the necessary stages for learning and evaluation to enable the achievement of our ambition. The first phase—the pathfinder phase—commences this year and will lead into a pilot phase ahead of national roll-out. The pathfinders will show us how the recently published national bairns’ hoose standards work in practice, enabling us to better understand and address the complexity of the necessary systemic change. Through the pathfinders, we will start to improve the experience of children, young people and their families in the justice, care and recovery services.

In our programme for government, which was announced last week, we committed to launching bairns’ hoose pathfinders in autumn 2023, which is a key action in our keeping the Promise implementation plan and our tackling child poverty delivery plan, enabling a whole-system approach for child victims and witnesses of abuse and harm.

It is through that phased approach to implementation that we seek to capitalise on the enthusiasm to deliver that transformation for children who have experienced trauma. Our commitment to the agenda is clear in our investment of £6 million in 2023-24 to establish those pathfinder partnerships, and we expect a similar level of investment to support pathfinders next year.

Liam McArthur

I do not necessarily expect a detailed response now, but I will put this on the record. In an island context, children and young people require to be taken off island for paediatric forensic examination. Therefore, the roll-out of any model in the islands will present additional challenges. Will the way in which the pathfinders are being taken forward allow for an exploration of how a holistic approach can be taken in an island context?

Natalie Don

I maybe cannot address the point directly, but I was about to come on to some of the concerns that Liam McArthur raised in his speech.

The assessment of applications to become pathfinder partnerships is under way, and I look forward to our announcement of those successful pathfinders next month. I emphasise that we want bairns’ hoose to be adopted across Scotland. We will also engage with areas that are not pathfinders so that they can share in the learning and build towards making bairns’ hoose services available nationally.

In relation to Liam McArthur’s comments, how that will work in rural areas will be considered. We will trial bairns’ hoose standards in a range of contexts, so those aspects will be assessed through the pathfinder phase.

Bragi Guðbrandsson, who is a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the founder of the barnahus model, said of barnahus that

“There is no other viable way to deal with child abuse”,

but that we need to “be patient”. That means that we need to be considered and get it right. Children and young people deserve that, and I think that our phased approach does exactly that.

I close by reiterating the Scottish Government’s whole-hearted support for the motion, and I thank the partners who have worked so hard to get to this point. I again thank Rona Mackay for lodging the motion, and I look forward to the parliamentary event on the topic in November, when we will continue our constructive dialogue.

Bairns’ hoose represents a significant step forward in improving our response for children who have experienced trauma, and we look forward to the next phase, when we will work together to build on that momentum for them.

Meeting closed at 18:03.