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Successful final PROMISE project Conference in Brussels: Launching the European Barnahus Movement

After successful two years of PROMISE project, including exchange meetings in Zagreb, Reykjavik and Haarlem, as well as the regional conference and study visit in Linköping, on 14 June 2017 professionals from around Europe came to the European Committee of Regions in Brussels where the final PROMISE project Conference: Launching the European Barnahus Movement, was held. The PROMISE project has since 2015 been part of consolidating and strengthening the Barnahus movement in Europe by exchanging learning and providing quality standards and tools.

During the Conference the key messages from the project, as well as the project outputs, were presented and shared. Director of Child and Youth Protection Center, Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD, and Center`s psychologist Ana Marija Spanic participated at the Conference. Prof. Buljan Flander was invited as a panelist to speak about short and long term psychological support as a quality standard during the panel session „The Barnahus Quality Standards: Illustrations of Good Barnahus Practice in Europe“ chaired by Mr Bragi Guðbrandsson.

Conference Programme

The final conference of the PROMISE Project focused on advocating child-friendly multi-disciplinary and interagency services supporting child victims of violence. Ms Turid Heiberg, Coordinator of the PROMISE project, opened the Conference welcoming about hundred professionals from around Europe. High level speakers gave their support to the European Barnahus Movement, including Ms Věra Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, and Ms Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children. Mr Bragi Guðbrandsson, Lead Expert in the PROMISE project, presented the Icelandic experience and how it has inspired the European Barnahus Movement. Ms Santos Pais highlighted concerning numbers from the WHO European Office study on child maltreatment in Europe which estimated that every year at least 18 million children in Europe suffer from sexual abuse, 44 million from physical abuse and 55 million from mental abuse. In addition, estimations are that child maltreatment leads to the premature death of more than 800 children below the age of 15 years.

Panel of experts

Panels of experts discussed multi-disciplinary and interagency response to violence against children in Europe and how the Barnahus model embodies children’s rights. First among three panel sessions, The Barnahus model: Multi-disciplinary and interagency response to violence against children in Europe, was chaired by Mr Carl Göran Svedin, one of the PROMISE project experts, professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences in Linköping University (Sweden) in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Panelist at the session included Mr Erio Ziglio, former Director of the European Office for Investment for Health and Development of the WHO, Mr Hjörtur Aðalsteinsson, Chief Judge at the District Court of Sudurland in Iceland, Mr Tuomas Kurttila, Chair of ENOC and Ombudsman for Children in Finland and Ms Anna Petersson, psychologist at the Barnahus Linköping in Sweden, who presented their views and experiences on multi-disciplinary and interagency response to violence against children.

Ms Rebecca O`Donnell, Secretary General at Child Circle, chaired the second panel, The Barnahus model: Embodying children`s rights, where Ms Susan Bissell, Director of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children (by video recording), Mr Claude Janizzi, Chair of the Lanzarote Committee, Council of Europe, Ms Margaret Tuite, European Commission Coordinator for the Rights of the Child and Ms Åsa Landberg, independent expert, psychologist and psychotherapist in Sweden, had shared their valuable views on children`s rights. Ms Margaret Tuite concluded that Council of Europe in the Council`s guidelines on integrated strategies and on child-friendly justice, as well as in the Council`s Lanzarote Convention, considers the Barnahus/ Children`s house/ Child Advocacy Center – model as a best practice, promotes the model towards all member states of the Council of Europe and includes the main characteristics of the model in all relevant conventions, guidelines and awareness raising activities.

The third panel, The Barnahus Quality Standards: Illustrations of Good Barnahus Practice in Europe, chaired by Mr Bragi Guðbrandsson, started with introduction of the PROMISE Good Practice Standards by Ms Olivia Lind Haldorsson, Senior Researcher at PROMISE and Co-founding Director at Child Circle. Further on experts illustrated some of the PROMISE quality standards. Ms Gordana Buljan Flander, Director of Child and Youth Protection Center of Zagreb in Croatia illustrated the standard on short and long term psychological support and shared experiences from everyday practice and children`s views. Ms Ólöf Ásta Farestveit, Head of the Icelandic Barnahus, presented the standard concerning the forensic interviews and the court proceedings, Ms Resmiye Oral, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa in the USA held a presentation on the standard of medical evaluation for forensic purposes and the child`s physical wellbeing, and Ms Janet von Bavel, Project Leader at Kenter, Jeugdhulp in Netherlands, presented her views on enabling interagency information exchange.

Session was followed by a fruitful discussion and questions posed by many experts in the field. Mr Peter van der Linden, Service Exchange Coordinator at PROMISE and Ms Turid Heiberg, Coordinator of the PROMISE project, closed the Conference with the promising look forward in the context of launching more multi-disciplinary and interagency services supporting child victims and witnesses of violence in Europe.

About the project

The objective of the PROMISE project, which runs from 2015 to 2017, is to promote child-friendly, multi-disciplinary and interagency services supporting child victims and witnesses of violence, providing them with access to justice, avoiding re-traumatization and ensuring high professional standards for recovery. Drawing on UN, EU and Council of Europe law and existing Barnahus models, this project aims to strengthen capacity, knowledge and exchange between government’s justice and child welfare sectors, the medical field, public/private forensic and therapeutic services as well as child rights NGOs and advocates. The project promotes a one-stop approach for child victims and witnesses of crime, limiting the number of interviews and ensuring comprehensive care including social, medical, therapeutic and legal support.

PROMISE is managed by the CBSS Secretariat (Children’s Unit). Partners include the Child Circle, HAPI, Verwey-Jonker Institute, Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Trauma Unit and Barnahus in Iceland, Linköping and Stockholm. It also builds on the expertise of prominent specialists in law, sociology, pediatrics, psychology and psychiatry from different European countries. The Pilot Countries engaged on the project are: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, and the UK (England and Scotland). These countries have been identified as having the interest and potential to transform their current services for supporting child victims and witnesses of violence into a multi-disciplinary and interagency cooperation. The pilot countries will learn from existing Barnahus and similar models and also exchange experiences amongst themselves in order to support national level capacity-building and multi-disciplinary and interagency implementation strategies.

Key documents and more information about the project, including presentations from the Conference are available on the PROMISE project website, where the European Barnahus Quality Standards, Tracking Tool and the Compendium of Law and Guidance can also be reached.