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A Courtroom for All: Creating Child and Adolescent-Fair Courtrooms

July 12, 2013 Comments off

A Courtroom for All: Creating Child and Adolescent-Fair Courtrooms (PDF)
Source: National Child Protection Training Center

Every day, thousands of child and adolescent victims of maltreatment are asked to enter the adult world of the criminal and family court justice system, to share their embarrassing and traumatic stories, and are expected to behave like adults. Those of us who work with youthful victims and witnesses know that the legal system can be overwhelming and intimidating to them. Many adults, even professionals who testify frequently, can be intimidated by the process. More must be done to create child and adolescent fair courtrooms because when a child feels comfortable, s/he will have better recall, testify more accurately and efficiently, and experience less re-traumatization. This is important for the wellbeing of the child, but also for a fair trial or proceeding of the defendant or parental respondents.

The criminal justice system is increasing the demands of children following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Washington . 1 The Crawford decision and its progeny mandated that children testify more frequently and has limited the introduction of hearsay testimony in lieu of the child appearing in court. However, Crawford does not apply to civil dependency cases since it only addresses the Sixth Amendment right of a criminal defendant to confront witnesses.

This article will outline how to create child and adolescent fair courtrooms and address issues such as: Who would be a good support person for a young child who has to testify? Are therapy animals allowed as comfort items for a child who is afraid of testifying in court? Can you physically alter the courtroom set up? How can we make the oath more meaningful for the children who testify in our courts? Can the judge order the attorneys to speak and behave in a certain way around children? And how can you help a child that is experiencing difficulty in the courtroom?

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Lessons from Penn State: A Call to Implement a New Pattern of Training for Mandated Reporters and Child Protection Professionals

February 15, 2012 Comments off
Source:  National Child Protection Training Center
The recent child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University, in which multiple, well-educated professionals declined to report clear evidence of maltreatment, is not an isolated instance. Twenty years of research documents what every child protection professional in America already knows—that most people most of the time won’t report even clear evidence of maltreatment or otherwise intervene to save a child.
Although less clear, the Penn State scandal also draws attention to an equally disturbing problem—that even when reports of abuse are made, these reports are often handled ineffectually if not incompetently. According to media reports of the Penn State scandal, investigators and prosecutors did review a 1998 report of inappropriate intimate contact with a boy. The alleged perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, even admitted to two university detectives that he hugged the boy while both were naked and stated, “I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get if from you. I wish I were dead.”  Although this recorded admission of Sandusky’s is an incriminating if not out-right confession of indecent contact with a boy, no charges or additional actions were taken.
The inability, even failure of criminal justice authorities to take meaningful action to protect a child is also not an isolated anecdote. Indeed, a large body of research and the universal experience of the nation’s child protection professionals confirm inadequate training at the undergraduate and graduate level—a woeful lack of preparation that increases the chances children will fail to be protected or that false accusations will be made.
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