A Government announcement that a pilot ‘One House’ centre for children who have been sexually abused will open early next year has been welcomed by the Ombudsman for Children and support organisations.
Under the plan, children who have been abused will be brought to the child-friendly centre in Galway where they and their family members will meet gardaí, doctors, and social workers who will co-ordinate their assessments so the child does not have to repeat their experiences.
It will mark a change to current practice, whereby children are interviewed by gardaí and Tusla child protection social workers and may also need to have a forensic and medical examination. Those assessments can take place in different places at different times and may result in referrals to other services.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, alongside Health Minister Simon Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, announced the plan.
“I am delighted to say that the pilot centre for a new interagency service to work with children who have been sexually abused, and their families, will open in early 2019 in Galway,” said Ms Zappone.
“Together with the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, representatives from the gardaí, the child and family agency, Tusla, and officials from Department of Justice, I have seen first-hand, similar approaches that are working well in New York, Northern Ireland, and Oxfordshire.”
Mr Flanagan said the ‘One House’ model will bring together the forensic, protection, health, therapeutic and policing services in a child-centred way and should improve the efficiency and effectiveness of child sexual abuse services.
“The measure of the success of the project will be in how it assists those affected,” he said.
The Ombudsman for Children, Niall Muldoon, was among those to welcome the news.
“Young victims of abuse deserve the best possible services with the shortest possible delay in accessing them,” said Dr Muldoon.
“Co-location of services to reduce the trauma endured by children who have already been abused makes sense and is an initiative that I have been advocating for some time.”
ISPCC CEO John Church said the new initiative could provide the level of support needed by children in this situation and which has not always been available to those in need.
Mr Church said that he wanted to see the plan rolled out to other centres, while Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) executive director Clíona Saidléar said: “This is long overdue. This pilot is a new approach based on well-established best international practice, which seeks to ensure the aspiration of a child-centred response where the child receives support not further trauma, becomes a reality.”