A pilot project to co-ordinate supports for children in a single place who have been sexually abused is to open in Galway early next year.
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced the One House pilot project on Tuesday.
The joint approach will involve the three departments working together, along with the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), the Health Service Executive and An Garda Síochána.
Currently, where there are concerns that a child has been sexually abused, the child has to be interviewed separately by gardaí and Tusla child protection social workers and may need to have a forensic and medical examination.
These assessments may all take place in different places at different times and the child and family may then be referred to another service for counselling and support. Under the proposed model, all services and supports will operate under one roof, the Ministers said.
Children who have been abused will be brought to this child-friendly centre where they, and their family members, will meet gardaí, doctors and social workers who will co-ordinate their assessments so the children do not have to repeat their experiences.
“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,” Ms Zappone said.
“This new approach is aimed at ensuring children are not retraumatised by having to recount the details of their ordeal a number of times to different people.”
Ms Zappone said that, together with special rapporteur on child protection Geoffrey Shannon, representatives from An Garda Síochána, Tusla and officials from Department of Justice, she had seen at first hand similar approaches that were working well in New York, Northern Ireland and Oxfordshire.
“Those fact-finding missions together with the expertise within our own frontline agencies are allowing us to develop an Irish model – the One House approach. Funding for our new pilot was secured in Budget 2019,” she added.
Mr Flanagan said the One House centre should improve the efficiency and effectiveness of child sexual abuse services and develop specialist expertise, skills and knowledge “in this complex area for the benefit of children who have suffered from sexual abuse”.
Mr Harris said multiple interviews added to the trauma and the pain children and their families faced when a child had experienced sexual abuse.
“These families have already endured so much and we, as a Government, must do everything we can to assist them during this difficult time but also to ease their burden in any way possible,” he said.
The One House project is informed by international best practice, such as the Barnahus model in Iceland and the Child Advocacy Centre models in the US.
Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children chief executive John Church said the appropriate level of support had not always been available to children and young people in Ireland who had been sexually abused and they had been failed in this regard.
He said the ISPCC looked forward to the establishment of One House centres in further locations across Ireland on the successful completion of the pilot programme.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) executive director Dr Clíona Saidléar said: “We can’t continue to fail children who experience child abuse. This pilot has the potential to deliver, for the first time, dedicated wrap-around specialisation to this area of child protection. This is long overdue.”