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Helping a Child be a Witness in Court

Helping a Child be a Witness in Court:

101 Things to Know, Say and Do

by Alison Cunningham & Lynda Stevens (2011)
ISBN 978-1-895953-45-9

Across this large and diverse country, a variety of people support children and teens as they wait for the resolution of a criminal case and perhaps when they are called to testify in court. In most urban areas, court-based victim services assist crime victims to understand and play a role in criminal prosecutions. Where no court-based victim service is available, as in some remote or rural areas, pre-court support can be provided by police officers, school teachers, counsellors, child protection workers, shelter staff, or maybe parents. This guide is a convenient overview of essential information needed to support a testifying child. It could also be a training tool for people entering the victim-support field or for victim-support workers who have historically worked with adults. The Centre is grateful for funding from the Department of Justice to support the development and distribution of this resource across Canada, in both English and French.

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Helping a Child be a Witness in Court: 101 Things to Know, Say & Do

Table of Contents

  • 10 Assumptions About Children as Witnesses and the Testimony of Children

  • 10 Principles of Providing Service to Children as Witnesses

  • 10 Things We Know About Child Witnesses

  • 10 Key Points about Trauma and the Child Witness

  • 10 Basic Steps of the Court Preparation and Support Process

  • 10 Accommodations to Court Procedures for Child Witnesses

  • 10 Components of Pre-court Preparation

  • 10 Things Children may Worry About

  • 10 Important Concepts to Explain to Children

  • 10 Components of Court Support

  • 1 Final Thought

"Tool Box" Ideas for Practice

  • What we learn from trauma-informed treatment techniques
  • Using concrete language
  • Assessing family reaction to the offence and its discovery
  • Working with therapists
  • Stress signs in children with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stress signs in teenagers with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Monitoring your own reactions to trauma exposure
  • Trauma-informed court preparation
  • Articulating stress levels using the SUD Scale
  • Are you services trauma-informed?
  • Gap analysis for child witness cases and referrals
  • Desensitization to the court setting
  • Tips for prosecutors
  • Prompts to aid writing of victim impact statements for child victims
  • Testimonial aids and vulnerable adult witnesses
  • Reviewing video-recorded statement in advance of testifying
  • Assessing court related knowledge
  • The "rules for witnesses"
  • Resources for children and teens
  • Resources for parents and caregivers
  • Resources for service providers
  • Asking about court-related worries
  • Ideas for role plays
  • Three techniques for stress management
  • When identification of the accused is an issue for trial
  • File information
  • Practice saying the names for body parts
  • Check your language
  • Evidence as a puzzle
  • Material (and knowledge) to have on hand for after the verdict

Frequently Asked Questions
  • I have supported many adult witnesses. What is different about providing pre-court preparation and day-of-court support to children?
  • What type of incidents are more likely to create post-trauma reactions in children?
  • Will the act of testifying traumatize a child?
  • Does each child need a full course of court preparation?
  • Where I work, the typical standards of "best practice" are simply not realistic. When is the best acceptable minimal practice of priorities for when you have little time and resources?
  • Must I ensure that the child can define a truth and a lie?
  • WHat if I am asked, "why is this case taking so long?"
  • How do I explain the possibility of an adjournment?
  • How much information do I give the prosecutor?
  • What do I do when a prosecutor decides not to apply for a testimonial aid and I know the child needs one?
  • What do I say if a child asks, "Do I have to testify?"

Research Summaries

The latest and highest quality research addressing a relevant topic is briefly summarized in small highlight boxes throughout the text. These topics are addressed.

  • Preparation of defence witnesses
  • How many child witnesses are there in Canada?
  • The importance of pre-court preparation
  • The scope of pre-court preparation and support
  • Supporting learning disabled victims
  • Providing choice for testimonial aids
  • Continuity of victim supporters
  • The benefits of providing support to parents
  • Feedback from parents of child witnesses
  • Age and the ability to define legal terms
  • Retention of memories about testifying
  • Children's experiences of cross-examination
  • "Training" children in effective Q&A skills
  • Seeing "problems" of older children and teenagers as "coping"
  • Seeing the accused in the courthouse
  • Why child witnesses sometimes don't get pre-court preparation
  • Case processing time in adult criminal cases
  • Survey of judicial views on Bill C-2 amendments
  • Use of testimonial aids
  • The effect on children of a promise to tell the truth
  • Preparing young children for "tricky" questions
  • Children's perceptions of the defence lawyer

En français

Pour aider un enfant témoin : 101 choses à savoir, dire et faire

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