School of Social and Political Science

Research project type

North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose (Barnahus) Evaluation




Evaluation project overview

In April 2020, Children 1st, Victim Support Scotland, Children England and the University of Edinburgh came together to create Scotland’s first Barnahus, (formerly referred to as the ‘Child’s House for Healing’)- now known as North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose. This three-year demonstration project (2021-2024) is funded by People’s Postcode Lottery as part of the Postcode Dream Trust. 

Barnahus (which means Children’s House in Icelandic) is a child-friendly, interdisciplinary and multi-agency centre for the victims and witnesses of violence, underpinned by the UN Conventions of the Rights of the Child. It is an internationally recognised evidence-based model for children and families affected by violence and abuse that brings together justice, health, social work and recovery support, to best meet the needs of child victims and witnesses (Johansson et al., 2017). The Bairns’ Hoose project is led by Children 1st and will be providing support for children (and their families) living in the North Strathclyde area (East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire).

As part of the project's partnership agreement the University of Edinburgh agreed to carry out the evaluation of the  Bairns Hoose.

The ambition of the Bairns Hoose is transformational change for children, young people and their families when they experience child protection and justice processes. The House will be underpinned by a rights-based approach embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The University of Edinburgh has responsibility for leading on the external three-year evaluation of the  Bairns Hoose and Dr Mitchell is the Principal Investigator for this part of the project.’
Professor John Devaney, Centenary Chair and Head of Social Work

The Barnahus model was established in Iceland in 1998 (and informed by Children’s Advocacy Centres in North America). Importantly the Barnahus is a rights-based model, and, although implemented differently in different contexts, it is guided by a shared set of standards (Lind Haldorsson, 2021).

Although the model has grown in influence across Europe (informing more than 36 organisations across 22 countries) this is the first time the model has been developed and tested within Scotland. It is also only the second service informed by the model within the UK. Given this context, the importance of a robust evaluation of the service development and delivery is clear. It is hoped that learning from the evaluation will inform the wider roll out of the Barnahus model across Scotland and make a significant international contribution to the theory and practice of working with children affected by violence and abuse.

Evaluation aims and questions

How does the Children 1st Bairns’ Hoose contribute to the Safety, Justice, Recovery and Recognition of children (and their families) who use the service?

The formative evaluation is framed by the overarching question above but is structured over several phases, each with their own focus and research questions. Phase one was undertaken between November 2021 and December 2022, prior to the opening of the Children 1st Bairns Hoose. This phase focused on two key areas: understanding the context children and families’ current experiences of services in North Strathclyde after abuse and maltreatment  (the system as is), and understanding the processes through which the Bairns Hoose is developing. Phase 1 findings can be found in North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose Evaluation Phase 1 Report.

The second phase will be undertaken following the opening of the service in July 2023- December 2023 and will focus on understanding the operational Children’s 1st Bairns Hoose model – what are the experiences of children, family members and professionals of Children 1st Bairns Hoose.

Evaluation approach

This is a mixed-methods evaluation, collecting and analysing both qualitative and quantitative data, and working in partnership with those delivering services and the children and families who access the service. The evaluation team is informed by a realist evaluation approach (Wong et al., 2016). Realist methodology is based on the assumption that the same intervention will not work in the same ways for everyone and across different contexts. Its focus is therefore on identifying ‘what works, for whom, under what circumstances and how’ (Pawson and Tilley, 1997). It is a theory-based approach, which means it starts by exploring existing ideas about how and why a service or programme may meet its objectives - and then gathers evidence to test or refine that theory. This will mean gathering data about the contexts in which the service operates, the mechanisms by which it hopes to deliver its services and create change, and the outcomes that result.

Realist approaches have been recognised as valuable when evaluating complex interventions that hold wider learning potential, such as community-based public health programmes. They are also particularly useful for evaluating programmes that produce mixed outcomes to better understand how and why differential outcomes occur.

For further information about the evaluation contact or check the project updates.

Evaluation team

Dr Mary Mitchell - Principal Investigator
School of Social and Political Science
Research interests include: Child welfare; family support; children’s participation; outcome evaluation; social work theory

Professor John Devaney - Centenary Chair and Head of Social Work
School of Social and Political Science
Research interests include: Child welfare; child maltreatment; domestic abuse; outcome evaluations

Eilidh Lamb, MA - PhD Student
School of Social and Political Science
Eilidh is undertaking a funded collaborative PhD studentship on use of space in Barnahus.

Dr Camille Warrington - Research Fellow
School of Social and Political Science
Research interests include: Children’s experiences of welfare services after abuse; Child and youth participation in research; child-friendly justice

Dr Louise Hill - Head of Policy, Evidence & Impact
Children 1st
Research interests include: Children’s rights; child & youth participation; child welfare; social policy; implementation

Dr Jennifer Lavoie - Chancellor’s Fellow: Global Challenges
Moray House School of Education and Sport
Research interests include: Children and families’ perceptions of justice; child-friendly justice; forensic disclosures

The evaluation has also been supported by research input from a number of research students including: Luke Powers, Chad Lance Hemady and Laura Weiner.

International research advisory group

We have established an International Research Advisory Group (IRAG) for the evaluation.

The aim of the IRAG is to provide advice, critique and intellectual curiosity to the evaluation team undertaking a robust evaluation of Scotland’s first Barnahus/Bairns Hoose. The IRAG meets approximately every five months

There are five main tasks for the International Research Advisory Group:

  • Advising on the design of the evaluation
  • Advising on the application for ethical review
  • Involvement in reviewing the progress of the evaluation
  • Offering advice on the findings of the evaluation at the interim and final stage
  • Supporting the evaluation team to effectively disseminate the findings emerging from the evaluation
Project partners

Scotland’s first Barnahus is a collaboration across several key institutions.

The project is led by Children 1st. It is supported by Victim Support Scotland, which works closely with children and families impacted by violence and abuse, as well as Children England, an infrastructure charity communicating learning from the children's sector to decision-makers in England. The University of Edinburgh team will be leading the evaluation and knowledge exchange activities.

The project has been funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund from April 2020, enabling the building Scotland’s first Bairns Hoose.

More information about the Barnahus model and the Children 1st Bairns' Hoose

The Icelandic Barnahus model

First developed in Iceland in 1998, Barnahus is an internationally renowned model of bringing together justice, health, social work and recovery support, to best meet the needs of child victims and witnesses. The Scottish model of Barnahus that is being developed is known as the Bairns' Hoose.

Barnahus provides a child-friendly space, under one roof, where law enforcement, criminal justice, child protective services, and medical and mental health workers cooperate and assess together the situation of the child and decide upon the follow-up.

A forensic interview and the medical examination of the child will take place, the police will investigate the situation around the alleged criminal offence, and lawyers and representatives of the judiciary will be involved. The need for short-term and long-term therapeutic and family support will also be assessed. In some countries, the prosecutor will decide if it is a likely criminal offence before the child is admitted to Barnahus. In other countries, children are directly referred to Barnahus by social services or the police. If, when assessing the situation, it becomes clear that the child and the family primarily need support from social services, the case will be referred to be followed up by services in the municipalities or by specialised services connected to Barnahus.

While Barnahus in Europe is inspired by the Children’s Advocacy Centres in the US, there are also distinct differences between the two approaches. The most notable differences being that the centres in the US are usually privately run, and children usually must be present in court. The Icelandic Barnahus innovated on the US approach. The service was integrated into the legal and social systems of Iceland, and owned by the government from the start. The result is a child-friendly justice approach. Instead of demanding children give their testimony in court, audio-visual recordings of forensic interviews may be used (source:

The Children 1st Bairns Hoose

Scotland's first Bairns Hoose will be a child-friendly, safe and welcoming place for children to go to, as a single alternative to courts, social work offices and police stations. Designed to feel like a family home, the Bairns Hoose will be a space where child victims and witnesses who have experienced any form of violence will:

  • Give evidence
  • Receive medical care
  • Take part in decisions about their protection
  • Get support to recover from the trauma they have experienced
  • Have a space where their wider family can also get support to understand what has happened to their child and how best to help them through it all

Through the Bairns' Hoose, agencies will work together to reduce the number of times a child needs to talk about what’s happened and ensure children get justice, reduce the trauma children experience and support children to begin to recover more quickly.

Scotland's first Bairns' Hoose, the Child’s House for Healing, will support up to 200 children from across the West of Scotland.

North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose Evaluation: Phase 1 Report, March 2023

Download the North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose Evaluation: Phase One Report.

Publications and outputs

Mitchell, M., Lundy, L., Hill L (2023) Children’s Human Rights to ‘Participation’ and ‘Protection’: rethinking the relationship using Barnahus as a case example in Child Abuse Review Vol 32, Issue 6

Mitchell, M., Warrington, C., Devaney, J., Lavoie J., Yates, P. (2023) North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose Evaluation: Phase One Report. Child Safety, Justice and Recovery Group, University of Edinburgh

Hill, L, Lundy, L and Mitchell, M (2021) Building a culture of participation in Barnahus: Implementing Children’s Right to Participate in Decision-Making. The Council of the Baltic Sea States Secretariat

Building a culture of participation in justice and recovery for child victims (Webinar)
This session was held at the World Congress on Justice with Children 2021. The session introduces how Barnahus in Europe have involved children in their work, and explores ways of embedding child participation into safe and informed pathways to justice for children. The session draws on a Promise paper on building a participatory culture in Barnahus and the Lundy model of child participation.

Lavoire, J., Hemady, C., Mitchell, M., Devaney, J., Hill, L., (2021)  Responding to Child Victims and Witnesses of Trauma and Abuse: Addressing the Support Needs of Children and Families Through the Barnahus Model
University of Edinburgh for Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

Lavoire, J., Devaney, J., Mitchell, M. Bunting L., Miller A, Hill, L., (2022 Putting the Child at the Centre: Barnahus (Children’s House) - a one-door approach to supporting children who have been sexually abused in Northern Ireland. University of Edinburgh for Northern Ireland Children and Young People’s Commissioner. 

Luke Powers  , Dr Mary Mitchell , Professor Ramona Allaggia (2022)  Trauma Informed Multi-disciplinary Working in the Bairns Hoose - Briefing Note FIN.pdf Briefing Note of Round Table Event, 22 November, 2022  , 25.1.23


Relevant links


Barnahus Evaluation Blog

‘Sitting with hope’? Evaluating system change for children after violence and abuse

by Camille Warrington

In a recent interview – part of the North Strathclyde Bairns Hoose evaluation - a third sector practitioner described how children and families, who seek support after an experience of violence or abuse, were often left ‘sitting with hope’ for services which in many cases did not materialise or have resources to fulfil their perceived promises. Listening to the palpable frustration of this practitioner I was struck by the potential cruelty of systems that ask children and families, usually at highly vulnerable moments, to invest trust in them, before failing to adequately meet their needs. It’s a dynamic, which though unintentional, feels all the more punishing given the betrayals of trust that lead children to engage with services in the first place. It’s also undoubtedly part of explaining why systems designed to help can be experienced as re-traumatising. While such shortcomings are rarely the fault of an individual professional - or even a service - they highlight fault lines that emerge between siloed services resulting in poorly coordinated support for children and families.

Such pervasive dynamics will be familiar and recognisable to those working across child protection, mental health, education, and the justice system. Indeed existing research means we already know a fair deal about the shortcomings of welfare and justice support for child victims and their families. Such work mirrors emerging evidence emerging from our own evaluation, and recent Scottish Government research which demonstrates how children and family’s welfare needs can be undermined by justice system requirements - despite policy intentions to avoid this. 

The challenge thus remains: how to foster hope and engagement among children and families - supporting them to see a pathway through and beyond traumatic experiences - while ensuring expectations are carefully managed and unrealistic promises avoided? 

The Barnahus model

It is into this context that the Barnahus model (or Bairns Hoose), arrives in Scotland with ambitious objectives to deliver systems change for young victims of abuse and their families[1]. The first iteration of the Bairns Hoose has been driven and developed by a partnership led by third sector organisation Children 1st with police, health, social work and justice in the North Strathclyde region of Scotland.

The Bairns Hoose is based on the Icelandic Barnahus model developed in 1998 and designed to meet children’s welfare and justice needs after identification of abuse or maltreatment. The model itself was inspired by (and innovated on) Child Advocacy Centres in the USA (now also present in Canada and Australia). It has subsequently been adapted across 22 European countries. Critical characteristics of the model include co-located multi-disciplinary services[2] spanning child protection, health, recovery and justice; and service delivery within a space that is safe, comfortable, welcoming and age appropriate – often referred to as a ‘child friendly space’.  Though every iteration is different, cross country collaboration has endeavoured to ensure that a shared set of standards and principles ground the model within diverse cultural and legislative contexts.

As Scotland moves closer towards implementation of the Barnahus model, the system itself can be seen to be ‘sitting with hope’: aware of its own shortcomings and keen to invest in a model which addresses them. During early stages of the evaluation, here in Scotland, I’ve been struck by the widespread buy in for the model, and the enthusiasm it garners. From early contacts, meetings and interviews with stakeholders, the palpable passion for the model is clear – spanning individuals from diverse professions and disciplines. Such support and momentum has no doubt influenced ambitious pledges from the Scottish Government to ensure all children in Scotland have access to a Barnahus by 2025 and plans to minimise child victims and witnesses court contact. Part of the appeal for the model may also lie in its tangible, practical nature – a system which rooted in multi- disciplinary work but largely delivered from a single building and centred on consistent relationships around the child and family. Subsequently it provides a vision that can be easily imagined and shared - embodying hopes to simplify and contain the complex systems navigated by children and families. 

Evaluation of this system

The next steps on this journey in North Strathclyde and beyond will be critical. They will indicate the degree to which Bairns Hoose can deliver on policy commitments and meet ambitious hopes invested in the model to deliver the significant system. 

As evaluators, our job is to capture learning along this journey, supporting the laudable ‘test, learn, develop’ principles of the partnership. This includes capturing other people’s hopes and documenting to what degree they are fulfilled while also recognising that the nature of expectations are themselves diverse. Indeed we have already seen from phase one of our evaluation how different stakeholders and individuals sit alongside one another with slightly different visions or priorities for the future system – and that this can bring both challenges and innovation. The approach adopted by our team to complete this work this draws on realist evaluation – often used to research complex and dynamic systems. Crudely speaking, realist evaluation aims to understand not only what and if an intervention delivers – but also why and how – unpicking the mechanisms, context and relationships that lead to change and considering how these may differ for different individuals in different circumstances. 

The task feels both daunting and exciting. Getting to travel alongside such significant system change from an early stage is nothing short of a privilege. And here we sit with our own hopes: for rich transferable learning; and knowledge about the system change required to ensure future children and families own hopes for safety, justice and support after harm are never misplaced.

[1] The Child’s House for Healing follows only one other UK Barnahus model - a sexual abuse specific iteration - The Lighthouse which serves North London.

[2] While precedents for co-location of multi-disciplinary teams exist in UK children’s services exist they rarely bring the breadth of professional representation of this model which brings health, social care, police, the crown office and third sector partners together.


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Research themes

  • Childhood & Youth
  • Criminal justice
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