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Preparing Children for Court Appearances

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When a child has been called to appear in court, it’s to testify or even partake in the proceedings. While it is a good thing to hear children’s testimonies, appearing in court can be intimidating.

Some children report feelings of anxiety, anger, and frustration. It’s essential to prepare the child for these appearances so that they are calm and can share their testimonies without fear. If you’re a parent or a social worker preparing a child for a court appearance, here’s what you can do to ease them into it.

Educate Yourself

Parents and guardians must understand how the court works and who the different people involved are. You can reach out to a social worker or a family law attorney in Santa Fe to help you learn more. The more you know, the more you’re able to explain to the child what’s going on.

Prepare the Child

The court and its processes can intimidate children. Parents can help prepare the child for the appearance and to cope with the stress of it. This includes building a trusting relationship and being nurturing. Get to know how your child does and thinks so you can anticipate their behavior.

Be Honest

While it may seem better to withhold knowledge from the child, in the long run, it’s better to share with the child what’s going on. If there’s a criminal case going on, it’s best to explain to them the legal proceedings. Knowing what they can expect is crucial because it can help calm the child. Surprises, on the other hand, can build up nerve-wracking feelings.

Prepare a Strategy

This step applies to a prosecutor. Observe the child and prepare a strategy fit for them. When it comes to court appearances, there are two approaches: empowerment and protection. Some children will benefit from the empowerment approach because they can supply direct evidence to the court through some education and skills training. Some children, on the other hand, do better with the protection approach to protect them from the stresses of court by giving their statements through a video recording or hearsay evidence.

Speak Their Language

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A three-year-old will talk differently from a 13-year-old. As children mature, their vocabulary expands to describe concepts better. Get to know the child because they must understand you. Do they speak another language better than English? Are they young? You must watch your language and the way you talk. Once you determine what your common denominator is, use this to build a child’s trust so that they can share testimonies comfortably.

Debrief the Child

Ideally, after a court appearance, a child will be debriefed. However, there may be times that this responsibility falls to the parents. Whoever does the debriefing should start by thanking the child for being brave and for what they did in the court. Let the child ask you questions about what happened so that they understand what’s going on. Let them know what the implications will be and what could happen next. And let the child know that you are supporting them.

It may be hard for a child to appear in court,  but with the proper preparation, patience, and support, they will be able to do so with courage and confidence.

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