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If I'm The Party, Where's the Cake?: The Need for Comprehensive Child-Witness Court Preparation Programs

NCJ Number
Center Piece Volume: 3 Issue: 1 Dated: 2011 Pages: 1-6
Joddie Walker, M.S., CTS
Date Published
6 pages
This paper discusses the features and benefits of a court preparation program for child witnesses.
Court preparation programs for child witnesses can include varying methods and tools; however, the goals remain the same, i.e., to empower the child, to provide support and information, and to familiarize the child with testifying. In pursuing these goals, the programs should demystify the court process through education, reduction of fear and anxiety about testifying through stress reduction techniques, and empowerment of children through emotional support. This paper first discusses the importance of explaining to children the legal terms that may be used in court. The explanations of these terms must use words and concepts that will have meaning for the child at his/her level of vocabulary. Of particular importance is an understanding of the adversarial nature of the interaction between the prosecutor and defense attorney, since the child may feel that he/she is the cause of their arguments. A child's fear and anxiety about testifying can be relieved through stress-reduction techniques. The specific fears that must be addressed are facing the accused, being hurt by the accused in or outside the courtroom, being on the stand or crying on the stand, being sent to jail, and not understanding the questions. Stress-reduction techniques improve the abilities of child witnesses to concentrate, recall events, and mitigate secondary victimization. Another purpose of a program for children who will testify in court is to empower them through emotional support. This involves teaching the non-offending adults/caregivers how to support the child witness. This would include such elements as how to identify the appropriate support person, how to anticipate the needs of the child witness, and how to respond to the support person's own concerns as well as those of his/her child. 7 references