The starting point for the Children's Houses' involvement with children or mentally impaired adults are instances where there is a suspicion that the child (3-16 years old) has witnessed or been the victim of violence or sexual abuse. We also undertake interviews in cases where there is a suspicion of violence associated with genital mutilation, forced marriage or honour-related violence. The Code on Criminal Procedure Section § 239 dictates that children up to the age of 16 should be interviewed in a neutral (out of court) setting. Interviews are regulated by the Guidelines on Forensic Interviews and Observation.
The Children's Houses have been tasked with conducting interviews in connection with criminal investigations, performed by qualified police personnel specially trained in interviewing children. Judges sit in separate rooms and observe interviews in real time via a video link. Defence attorneys, legal-aid attorneys, appointed guardians as well as police attorneys and investigators may also be present. Senior counsellors/psychology specialists from the Children's Houses perform a monitoring role to assess the child's mental health as the interview is conducted, as well as ensuring that the subject need only describe his/her experience once and once only. This is crucial to determine what further treatment and follow-up is required. It is up to each judge to decide whether other Children's Services representatives should be present during the interviews.
Medical examinations at the Children's House Bergen are the responsibility of the Children's Clinic located at the Bergen University Hospital. Examinations are performed by experienced doctors and nurses in a specially equipped room, and are offered one day per week. They can have various objectives ranging from collecting evidence and documenting injuries to identifying previous injuries and assessing medical records. Examinations can also confirm sound physical health with no injuries present.
Treatment and follow-up at the Children's Houses is a low-threshold offering that is available without the child or the child's family having necessarily been referred for treatment. The first objective is to ascertain the child's safety, if there is any trauma reaction and if there is a desire for treatment/follow-up either on site or through the local care apparatus, if such services are not already involved. Needs are identified through an evaluation offered to all children and relatives following judicial interviews.
The main aim here is to assess the child's psychological condition, safety and any need for acute referral. This is done in collaboration with Children's Services and the police if necessary. It is also important to evaluate the ability of care giver(s) to provide adequate support, especially if they are themselves in crisis. It is also important to identify private and professional networks. A Children's House staff member is familiar with the details of abuse. Children requiring follow-up/treatment at the Children's House will receive that help immediately. We provide follow-up as necessary until other local care services become involved. Treatment for children/families is provided at a systems level in addition to more individually focused treatment alternatives.
A central concern of the Children's Houses is that having caring adults around will ensure the child's positive development. Consequently we spend a lot of time working with parents, and also directly with schools and kindergartens. We collaborate with the local care apparatus to ensure that children receive the best possible help. Our mission is to deliver individually tailored treatment to all children and young people presenting at the Children's Houses.
ANONYMOUS CONSULTATIONS, ADVICE AND GUIDANCE
The Children's Houses have seen increasing enquiries from Children's Services, school health services, and schools and kindergartens themselves. This contact is characterised by requests for advice and guidance where the child's identity is not disclosed. We are also contacted by worried parents and grandparents, as well as other relatives and neighbours.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION
The Children's Houses represent an exciting new service where professional development and education are key factors. A yardstick of success is that the police and the courts view us as key partners. It is also vital that we are considered strong professional partners by colleagues in Children's Services, in mental-health and other front-line service providers. In Bergen, we have worked hard to make our offering known and have drawn a lot of attention since day one. This interaction has involved collaboration meetings, as well as ongoing education and professional development.
ANCHORING AND MANDATE
The establishment of the Children's Houses was the first step in the Strategy Plan for Domestic Violence 2008-2011.
The turning point: "The main objective is to provide a better service for child victims of abuse by means of medical examinations, judicial interviews and treatment being offered beneath one roof." The Children's Houses were conceived of as multidisciplinary competence centres, also providing services for mentally impaired adults. They form part of a project between the Ministry of Justice and the Police, the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, and the Ministry of Health and Care.
The Children's House Bergen comes under the umbrella of Hordaland Police District and opened on September 1. 2007. We are located at Allehelgensgate 4 in the city centre. Our catchment area has a population of 615.000 people in 59 municipalities and covers the police districts of Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane. We serve six judicial districts comprising Bergen, Fjordane, Hardanger, Nordhordaland, Sogn and Sunnhordland.
The Children's House Bergen employs four senior advisors/clinicians with child-services experience, one psychology specialist, one administrative director, one consultant/technician and one technician employed 50% part-time.