Children who have been victims of sexual abuse or exploitation will, for the first time in the UK, be able to access a complete range of support services from dedicated experts under one roof, in a pioneering project to launch in London.
The UK’s first two Child Houses, funded by £7.2m secured by the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) and NHS England (London) from the Home Office Innovation Fund, will offer medical, investigative and emotional support in one place, removing the need for young victims to go through the trauma of repeating their statement several times to different agencies.
This multi-agency approach will help gather better evidence and increase the speed of its delivery to court, as well as offering longer term support to victims of child sexual abuse in the criminal justice system.
Only one in four children and young people reporting sexual abuse is currently referred to local services for medical support. Those who do report abuse face multiple interviews with social workers, the police and medical professionals in different settings, and a long wait to go to trial. Many cases do not have sufficient evidence to reach the prosecution stage and often families are left to navigate the complex health system by themselves, in order to seek support from their GP, mental health services or local charities.
Today, the Mayor was joined by Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Deputy Mayor for Policing Sophie Linden at the Children and Young Persons (CYP) Haven at King’s College Hospital.
Open since April this year, it offers a calm environment for medical examinations, counselling and therapy, with soft coloured chairs and brightly coloured rugs providing a soothing alternative to plastic clinical furniture, and artwork and a 3D technology system providing distraction. Funded by NHS England (London), it expands the services offered to adult sexual abuse victims at the three London Havens.
The new Child Houses, which will open next year, will build on the work of the CYP Haven. While the Haven offers an urgent 24/7 response, a predominantly clinical service and short term care and support, the Child Houses will provide a multi-agency, long-term support and advocacy service under one roof. Criminal justice aspects of aftercare will be embedded in the service, with evidence gathering interviews led by child psychologists on behalf of the police and social workers, and court evidence provided through video links to aid swifter justice.
A 2015 review of these services in London by NHS England (London) found gaps in the medical and emotional aftercare provided to children and young people, and made a recommendation to implement five Child Houses across the capital to meet these needs. Based on the original Icelandic Barnahus model, which promotes a multiagency, interdisciplinary approach under one roof, the Houses will gather more effective evidence from interviews and offer faster progress in investigations and court cases.
Each Child House is expected to be able to provide support to over 200 children and young people each year. They will build on the work currently carried out by the CYP Haven, set up following work by MOPAC and NHS England (London) to improve health services for victims of sexual violence in the capital.
Sadiq Khan said: “These young victims have already gone through an horrific ordeal, and it’s vital that they receive the care and support they need, without having to tell their traumatic story over and over again. The Child Houses will bring together medical, psychological and social care with the criminal justice system in one place, building on the fantastic work already being carried out by the Children and Young Persons Haven. They are a real step forward in early detection of abuse, better evidence, and more convictions to bring offenders to justice.”
The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime that this Government is taking action to tackle, both by protecting children and young people from abuse and bringing offenders to justice.
“Victims and survivors deserve to see justice done, but they have also experienced unimaginable trauma and require the utmost compassion and care. It is vital that health and law enforcement agencies work together to put those victims at the centre of the criminal justice process.
“It was a privilege to visit the Children and Young Persons Haven and gain an insight into how this victim-centred approach is being put into action. Both the Haven and Child Houses represent a step change in our approach to tackling child abuse and supporting victims in this country.”
Dr Sophie Khadr, Consultant Clinical Lead at the Havens, said: “The Havens CYP service supports children and young people, and crucially their parents and carers, in the immediate aftermath of a disclosure of sexual assault. The time period for collection of forensic evidence is very short and is best undertaken in the supportive and safe healthcare environment that the Havens have always provided. Victims and their carers also need reassurance about safety from infection and that their needs will be paramount. As an immediate single point of contact, the Havens CYP demystifies the complexity for parents and young people navigating their way through the system and the various agencies who need to be involved. The advocacy role, along with our forensic, medical and psychological services together in one place, is rightly putting the victim’s needs centre stage.”
The location of the Child Houses will be confirmed later this year, with one north of the Thames and one south, and they will be operational from Spring 2017. Jointly delivered by MOPAC and NHS England, the Home Office Innovation funding is covering set-up and running costs, as well as an evaluation to inform any subsequent roll-out of additional Child Houses in London and across the UK. In addition, NHS England (London) is providing match funding.
Joanne Murfitt, Director of Public Health Commissioning, Health in the Justice System and Military Health, NHS England said: “Child Houses are a unique, supportive place of care specifically for children and young people who are victims of sexual violence and we are delighted that the first two houses will open in London in 2017.
“We know that the houses will be a safe place for children and young people who are facing a very difficult, traumatic time – all of their needs will be addressed under one roof in a caring, calm and protective environment with excellent healthcare and support provided by experienced, compassionate staff.
“The Child Houses will make a real difference for those living in the capital so that every child and every young person knows that there is help available when they need it most.”
Notes to Editors
1. The Child House Concept
The Child House concept is based on best practice learned from the USA and Scandinavia. In Iceland the ‘Barnahus’ model has been in place since 1998 using a child-friendly response to child sexual abuse (CSA) that is multiagency, interdisciplinary and all under one roof.
The model recognises the vulnerability of the child victim and the harm caused to the child by multiple interviews. The Barnahus in Iceland provides one place in which the child can have forensic interviews and make court statements, have medical examination and access therapeutic services, which are also available for the victim’s family. Since the Barnahus model was established in Iceland, the number of child victims of CSA coming forward for help has more than doubled per year, indictments have more than tripled, and convictions have more than doubled. The Barnahus model has since been exported to Norway, Greenland and Denmark, with pilots planned in Finland and Lithuania.
2. The 2015 NHS review can be found here
3. MOPAC and NHS England (London region) were successful in securing £7.2m from the Home Office Police Innovation Fund for the development and implementation of two Child Houses in London between 2016/17 and 2017/18. The Child House programme will be jointly delivered by MOPAC and NHS England (London). Further match funding is being provided by NHS England (London), and other funding is being sought to ensure the sustainability of the two Child Houses beyond 2017/18. The long term aspiration is to have a Child House set up in each of London’s five NHS sectors.
4. Between September 2015 and August 2016, police recorded 3,597 victims of child abuse in London, aged 17 and under.