The starting point for the Childrens Houses' involvement with children or mentally impaired adults are instances where there is a suspicion that the child (3-15 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 Childrens 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 Childrens Houses perform a monitoring role to assess the childs' 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 Childrens Services representatives should be present during the interviews.
Medical examinations at the Childrens House Trondheim are the responsibility of the Social Pediatrics unit of St. Olavs Hospital. Examinations are performed by experienced doctors and nurses in a specially equipped room. 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 Childrens 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 childs 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 childs psychological condition, safety and any need for acute referral. This is done in collaboration with Childrens 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 Childrens House staff member is familiar with the details of abuse. Children requiring follow-up/treatment at the Childrens 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 Childrens Houses is that having caring adults around will ensure the childs 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 recieve the best possible help. Our mission is to deliver individually tailored treatment to all children and young people presenting at the Childrens Houses.
Anonymous consultations, advice and guidance
The Childrens Houses have seen increasing enquiries from Childrens Services, school health services, and schools and kindergartens themselves. This contact is characterised by requests for advice and guidance where the childs 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 Childrens 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 Childrens Services, in mental-health and other front-line service providers. In Oslo, 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 Childrens 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 under one roof." The Childrens 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.