Victim Assistance: Preparation and Support for Children in Criminal Proceedings
Presented by: Jeannette M. Adkins, MEd, LPC, CA Retired, Executive Director Michael’s House CAC Greene County Prosecutor’s Office Fairborn & Xenia, OH firstname.lastname@example.org
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”~Isak Dinesen
Preparation & Support • Preparation & support for children who are victims and/or witnesses of crime begin at first contact with the child protective services worker, law enforcement officer, victim advocate, CASA (court appointed special advocate) or other professional.
Preparation • Competency, grand jury, suppression hearings & trials all may require child victims to appear during criminal proceedings. • Victim assistance providers play a crucial role in ensuring that children are handled with care as they maneuver through a system that is confusing even for adults. • Know your state statutes, particularly regarding competency, hearsay, use of support in relation to child witnesses.
Who is Responsible for the Child Victim/Witness? “Can somebody help me?”
Victim Assistance Varies fromJurisdiction to Jurisdiction • Law Enforcement Officer, Detective and/or Law Enforcement-based Victim Assistance Provider • Child Protective Services Worker • Victim Advocate (Prosecutor-based, child advocacy center, rape crisis, domestic violence program, court appointed special advocate, etc.) • Prosecutor (hopefully with specialty in child cases)
Assuming Case will Move Forward in Criminal Justice System… • Identify WHO will provide primary preparation & support for child throughout process • Set up a plan for preparation prior to any criminal justice proceedings • Explain to child and child’s parents or guardian what will happen next. • Provide written material, if possible.
Who? • Identify primary victim assistance contact for child and parent/guardian (e.g. Victim advocate from prosecutor’s office) • Provide phone contact information (specially designed business cards) • If YOU…FOLLOW THROUGH!
Your Victim Assistance Friend: Cynthia Gevedon Greene County Prosecutor’s Office Victim/Witness Division 61 Greene Street; Xenia, OH 45385 Phone: 937-562-5087 Email: email@example.com
Provide Written Materials • So…You’re Going to Go to Court! • Lily Lightning Bug & Her Stolen Glow (available at the NOVA web site: www.trynova.org • Brochures, booklets, coloring books, etc.
Set Preparation Meetings Make appointments with child’s schedule in mind: *Nap time *School schedule/extra-curricular activities *Meal time *Attention span
Include MDT Primary Players • Investigator/Detective • Child Protective Services Worker • Victim Advocate • Prosecutor • Therapist or counselor
Timing of Preparation • Make sure there is plenty of time to meet BEFORE hearing, trial or criminal justice proceeding. • Ideally, allow one initial meeting, especially with prosecutor, for just “getting acquainted.”
Getting Acquainted Meeting • Neutral location (restaurant, park, child’s home, private room at school, etc.) • Allow meeting to be non-threatening, relaxed and simple for child • Use introductory questions that have nothing to do with allegations
Questions (asked keeping in mind the child’s developmental level and possible competency voir dire with judge)… • What is your name? • How old are you? When is your birthday? • Do you have brothers or sisters? • Are they older or younger than you? • Do you have any pets? What are their names? • Do you go to school? What grade are you in? • What do you like to do? Color? Skateboard? Sports?
Information to Share • My name is…. I am your (prosecutor, advocate, investigator) • We’re going to meet at my office, with the judge, at the courthouse… • Do you know what we’ll be meeting about? • I need your help…
Conclusion of Initial Meeting • Do you have any questions you want to ask me? • We’ll be meeting again on (day of week, after school on…, next week) • We will be talking about… • You will visit my office, the courtroom, the judge, etc. • Answer parent/guardian questions and set next preparation appointment.
Before Next Preparation Meeting… • Review all police reports, witness statements, interview summaries, case history information • Prepare questions for child to elicit necessary information for criminal justice proceeding (competency hearing, grand jury proceeding, suppression hearing, trial, etc.) • Arrange and meet with all MDT members involved (detective, victim advocate, child protective services worker, therapist, etc.)
Before Next Preparation Meeting cont… • Plan first preparation meeting (s) in your office, CAC or neutral location • Follow up meetings should be scheduled in actual setting, if possible, or arrange visit to judge’s office, grand jury room, courtroom • Schedule times for preparation meetings with regard to child’s schedule and key players’ schedules
Preparation Meetings • Welcome child and allow for some neutral “re-acquainting” time • Provide child a tour of your office, the courthouse, the courtroom • Acclimate child to surroundings (e.g. your office, courtroom, judge’s bench, witness chair, microphone, etc.) • Discuss with parent or guardian the benefit or barrier their presence may have during preparation meetings (out of the presence of child and with child, especially if older.)
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation • Explain process to child in terms he or she can understand: “We are going to be talking to the judge soon. The judge is going to ask you some questions about how old you are, about right and wrong and about the difference between the truth and a lie.” “We are going to get ready for you to testify or to tell the truth about what happened with Uncle Johnny.”
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • Start slowly and be patient with child: “Can you tell me your name?” “How old are you?” “Where do you live?” (CAUTION with address if necessary) “I’m going to ask you some questions about what happened when you were living at your grandma’s…”
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • Ask questions that establish legal requirements (e.g. “on or about” dates; venue or jurisdiction; statute elements) “Where were you living last summer?” “Did you go to live with grandma while you were still in school or after school was out?” Preparation of the areas that must be addressed will help guide your questions of the child and will keep preparation (and later testimony) on track.
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • Ask questions clearly keeping in mind child’s developmental level, beginning with general questions and then more specific questions: “What color was the house you lived in with grandma? (May have been described as ‘yellow’ which identifies venue) “Who lived at grandma’s with you?” “Where did you sleep at grandma’s?” “Did anyone else sleep in the bedroom with you?”
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • Prepare child for upcoming questions about incident (s): “I’m going to ask you some questions now about what you first told mommy about what happened when you were living at grandma’s last summer.” “I need to ask you some more questions about what happened when you were living at grandma’s yellow house during school vacation.” “You told me that Uncle Johnny came into your bedroom at grandma’s and that you had a problem. Let’s talk about that some more…”
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • When questioning the child about the specifics of the case, make sure questions are simple, concise and designed to elicit the response expected. • CAUTION: avoid leading questions, but preparation will provide you with the components familiar to the child and his or her “story.” (Court may allow some leniency with leading while questioning a child) • Questions should be age-appropriate and should follow guidelines for establishing necessary legal elements.
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • Keep things simple and concise following a logical sequence of questions that “help” the child tell the story. (Chronological may be best for child and later for jury) • Assess whether or not it would be beneficial to deal with discrepancies or confusion-they can often be cleared up during preparation and then dealt with “head on” during the criminal justice proceeding (e.g. Is the truth good or bad?) • Colleague to question child like defense attorney might
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. • Allow for breaks • During breaks, check with other MDT members who may be present for feedback (e.g. forensic interviewer, detective, advocate, child protective worker). They may be able to identify “prompters” that will elicit information that came out in the initial interview of child, for example, or point out inconsistencies that you don’t want as surprises during the criminal justice proceedings.
Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation cont. Be aware of child’s concerns or needs: *Confusion or misunderstanding of question (s) *Attention span challenges or need for a break *Distress, discomfort or embarrassment in response to specific questions *Need to have questions answered that he or she may have about the offender, his or her presence in the courtroom, the process, the proceeding, etc. Are there options? *Need for support (from parent or guardian, advocate, courthouse dog, child protective services worker, etc.)
Conclusion of Criminal Justice Proceeding Preparation • Set up additional meeting times as necessary (multiple preparations may be required) • Provide follow up contact person/info • Provide dates for upcoming criminal justice proceedings and an explanation to child and parent/guardian of same • Thank the child for his or her “help” and see if the child has any questions
Support for Child Victim/Witnesses During the Criminal Justice Process • Offer kind, child-friendly support throughout the criminal justice process (from initial meeting and interview through to final disposition of case) – Courthouse/facility dogs are incredible! • Remember: Identify at least one MDT member who will serve as the primary contact for the child – advocate may be best • Provide written materials offering support whenever possible; read with child before and/or after participation in a criminal justice proceeding • Provide food, drinks or snacks only with the parent/guardian’s permission
Hints for Assisting Child Victims/Witnesses • Never make a child wait for long periods of time • Take frequent breaks • Keep things simple! • Maintain a gentle (but firm when necessary) demeanor with the child • Provide a child-friendly waiting area • Caution with promises, gifts/rewards, what you say to the child
Child-Friendly Waiting Area The child-friendly atmosphere provided by child advocacy centers is the ultimate environment, which can be recreated elsewhere: • Advocates, law enforcement & child protective services can create a child-friendly waiting area in their offices with pictures, books, coloring supplies and a minimum amount of toys • TV with DVD capability is helpful for longer waits during trials for example • Parent/guardian approved snacks and drinks should be available as the Court’s schedule may not coincide with the child’s (Caution-allergies, sugar, etc.)
Child-Friendly Waiting Areas cont. • Be prepared to wait with the child, especially if the parent/guardian is a witness, too • Introduce the child to a volunteer or another advocate in case the primary victim assistance provider is a subpoenaed witness as well or needed in the hearing or courtroom • Games, activities or art projects that can be done with the child may be helpful for passing the time • Selections from treasure chests or any toys should be distributed to the child after any meetings, preparations or testimony in criminal justice proceedings-make sure prosecutor is aware of the practice.
Excellent Resource for “Treasure Chest” Giveaway’s *www.orientaltrading.com *Kohl’s *Civic groups, women’s clubs or businesses may purchase these treasures for you!
Sample Activity Assortment from Oriental Trading Co. Zoo Assortment– 50 pieces for $7.95
Benefits of an Identified Child Advocate or Victim Assistance Provider • Can serve as primary contact for child and parent/guardian • Friendly and consistent face for the child • If involved since the initial complaint (e.g. especially if you provide 24/7 response) and interview, can provide vital information, feedback and support during the preparation for and participation in the criminal justice process (e.g. assistance with question preparation, security for child, liaison between child and parent/guardian and other MDT members, particularly prosecutor)
I’ve Asked You A Lot of Questions… Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?
A Final Word on Helping Children… “They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; A smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.” ~Emily Dickinson