Child therapy experts have warmly welcomed the long-awaited establishment of the country's first multi-agency specialist centre for victims of child sexual abuse.
The 'Onehouse' in Galway brings together all the necessary medical, therapeutic and policing services for children in one location.
The facility, based on the Icelandic Barnahus model and US Child Advocacy Centres, will operate as a pilot project with the aim of replicating it in other regions.
The Garda Inspectorate called for similar centres to be established in 2012, but noted in December 2017 that “little progress” had been made.
It said there were official commitments to develop three centres: one for the western/northern region, one for the southern region and co-located hubs in Dublin - with the first centre to be created in Galway.
The ministers for children and justice jointly launched the Barnahus, Onehouse Galway pilot project today.
Children's therapy charity CARI said it was “delighted” to be attending the opening of the service.
“The Barnahus model will see the HSE, Tusla and An Garda Síochána working together under the one roof to provide children with the necessary supports and services after a disclosure of sexual abuse,” said CARI Support Services Manager Eve Farrelly.
She said that currently such children are interviewed by gardaí and by social workers and may also need a forensic and medical examination.
“Currently these assessments take place in different places and at different times, which can contribute to the stress levels for both the child and their family,” she said.
Dr Joanne Nelson, Clinical Director of the Child and Adolescent Sexual Assault Treatment Service, based in Galway, said: “Agencies and individuals in Ireland have long been battling for progress within child and adolescent sexual abuse services in Ireland.
“As such, ministerial endorsement, now and into the future, of the Barnahus, Onehouse Galway, is hugely welcomed.”
She said nothing promoted effective interagency working better than face to face contact.
“Children will be brought to the Barnahus door, each with their own private and individual trauma,” Dr Nelson said. “Every voice will be heard. The ultimate aim is that every child will be in a better position when the process ends than when it began.”
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said the pilot is the “first multiagency integrated service” for children who have experienced sexual abuse and their families and provided a “sensitive, joined up” approach.
She said the centre takes away the need for children to repeat their trauma as they engage with separate agencies.
Minister Zappone said the project could serve as a model for a “more extensive national service”.
She added: “This will take time and commitment at the service delivery level and at the department level. I know that commitment exists and I look forward to seeing this service supported and developed in the years to come.”
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he firmly believed the coordinated delivery of services by Tusla, the HSE and An Garda Síochána will be “a model for the future”.
Health Minister Simon Harris said he was committed to continuing to work with his government colleagues to ensure “the expansion of this service over the coming months and years”.
Pat Smyth, outgoing interim chief executive of Tusla said collaboration between Tusla, HSE and Gardaí can provide a “better, more comprehensive and appropriate services for vulnerable children".
Detective Inspector Michael Coppinger said gardaí were looking forward to working with social workers and other professionals at the Onehouse centre, which he said would offer “a safe space” for children.
*CARI National Helpline 1890 924 567