We asked the current and former Heads of Children at Risk Unit about their perspectives on the CBSS Member States’ strong commitment to working together on child protection in the Baltic Sea Region, and what some of the key highlights are from this collaboration.
Olivia Lind Haldorsson (current Head of Children at Risk Unit): In the past three years, the Expert Group on Children at Risk has, in light of Covid-19 and more recently the war against Ukraine, consistently reiterated its strong commitment to engage in regular exchange and to develop innovative practices to address current and future challenges for children in our region.
There is a strong consensus among members that the Expert Group on Children at Risk provides a unique and conducive environment for dialogue, exchange of information and practical collaboration. One of the expert group members recently described the expert group as a “professional, simple, trusted, educational, relevant, jovial and including atmosphere”. I think that says it all!
Turid Heiberg (Head of Children at Risk Unit 2013-2019): Efficient work and results depend on support from the CBSS structures and institutions in and outside the Baltic Sea Region. Informing the Secretariat and representatives from the Foreign Ministries of the CBSS Member States about the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the importance of strengthening child protection systems and, not least, the severity and magnitude of children victims of violence, were rewarded with increased cooperation and trust. Similarly, promoting the work of the Expert Group on Children at Risk resulted in increased funding, visibility, and respect, by, for instance, the EU, the Council of Europe, the Nordic Council, the Central European Initiative, and UNODC.
Today, we are in an excellent position to nurture and develop the legacy and incremental progress that is the result of more than 20 years of regional collaboration.Olivia Lind Haldorsson, Head of Children at Risk Unit
Olivia: Today, we are in an excellent position to nurture and develop the legacy and incremental progress that is the result of more than 20 years of regional collaboration. The groundwork that was done to generate an understanding of the work and value of the Expert Group on Children at Risk within the CBSS and with other stakeholders provides an important foundation for deepening and strengthening our position and partnerships in the region and beyond.
The high level of trust among the members, and the strong support from the CBSS political leadership, enables the expert group to deepen and develop the exchange of common approaches to regional and national challenges and to develop innovative, transferable practices. The enthusiasm and professionalism of the expert group also help the Secretariat in our role to promote and pioneer “signature” practice from our region to support the implementation of the expert group’s strategic priorities.
There are indeed many examples of where countries in our region have led the way, and where the expert group has come together to promote specific practices and approaches that stem from the common commitment and foundation in children’s rights and child protection.
Turid: Iceland initiated the first Barnahus, Sweden was a pioneer in establishing laws against corporal punishment, and Poland was an essential actor in developing the CRC. The countries in the region have inspired each other in establishing the European Barnahus movement, the Non-Violent Childhoods programme, the Protect Children on the Move programme, and other child protection initiatives. A genuinely beneficial journey for all countries involved to better prevent and protect children against violence, neglect and abuse.
From autumn 2013 to autumn 2019, we initiated activities and sharing of good practices within family support, preventive efforts, early interventions and monitoring of child-care facilities. We increased the understanding of the necessity to protect children against all forms of violence, such as physical and mental violence, neglect or sexual abuse and exploitation. Children in transnational situations and guardianship roles were also highlighted. The establishment of the European Barnahus movement saw almost all the member states developing Barnahus or similar entities, as well as a substantial number of other European countries doing the same.
Some situations are especially worth remembering. One such moment was when training professionals in interviewing children using an avatar. The professionals expressed gratitude for training with colleagues about possible situations children may encounter, making them more confident being with the child in work situations.
Our work to promote Barnahus continues to be one of the most exciting and successful “exports” from this region. Today, all our member states have a Barnahus or a pilot, and a large share of the expertise on the model exists in the region.Olivia Lind Haldorsson, Head of Children at Risk Unit
Olivia: There are various achievements from the past years that today provide an important platform for the expert group’s new strategic objectives and activities. The avatar training is one example where we have built on past partnerships to develop and scale up activities. In the past two years, more than 120 professionals have been offered training in child investigative interviews in cases concerning violence against children, with avatar training as an integral part. This is always a very appreciated part of the training, and we will now pilot avatar training for forthcoming training in child protection in Barnahus.
Our work to promote Barnahus continues to be one of the most exciting and successful “exports” from this region. Today, all our member states have a Barnahus or a pilot, and a large share of the expertise on the model exists in the region.
A key achievement is our support in the past three years to formalise the European Barnahus movement into a strong European Barnahus Network, which we proudly host at the CBSS Secretariat. We have been fortunate to partake in the creation of a thriving, diverse network, with members from over 26 countries, and we are active in over 43 national contexts making it a truly transnational partnership.
Our first Barnahus Forum last December brought together some 200 professionals from across Europe to celebrate our partnership and to discuss burning issues for Barnahus in Europe today. The members explored the role of Barnahus managers, considerations for scaling up Barnahus, the role of Barnahus and children affected by armed conflict, adapting Barnahus practice to online sexual abuse cases, children with harmful behaviour, the importance of medical evaluations for every child, to name just a few things that were on the agenda.
Another interesting piece of work that will be developed in the coming years is the core strategic objective of the expert group to promote resilient and inclusive child protection systems, including in times of crisis and emergencies. It is truly inspiring to see how the expert group places building trust and collaboration in the Baltic Sea Region at the centre of this work, and that there is genuine interest in the added value of regional exchange to promote both national and transnational excellence in practice.
The Children at Risk Unit is very proud to support the expert group in their generous and open exchange, and to develop new innovative solutions to improve the lives of children and fulfil children’s rights in our region, and beyond.