Children and young people

Supporting children and young people through a criminal prosecution:

This information has been prepared by the Witness Assistance Service (WAS) at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP). It aims to provide some helpful ideas and resources for parents or carers who are supporting a child witness through a criminal prosecution.

While you as a parent or carer may not be a witness in the matter, it does not mean that you will be any less anxious about the process confronting children. We have prepared some information that may assist you in supporting your child and help you manage your own anxieties.

Emotional Support

  • Treat children as you normally would, not as someone who is fragile or different

  • Try to maintain normal routines and activities

  • Counselling can be arranged for children and young people and yourself, if required.  It can take time and perseverance to find a counsellor that the child may feel comfortable with, and it may also take time before you see any benefits from the counselling. This is only natural. If you have any concerns, discuss them with the counsellor

  • Sometimes children and young people may need a break from counselling. This is perfectly normal. Remember, they can always reconnect with their counsellor before the prosecution begins

  • You are a very important person for the child. To help you maintain this role in their lives, you may also benefit from counselling and / or support. You may find it helpful to “debrief” with a trusted friend or counsellor after the prosecution has finished

  • Reassure the child of your support by letting them know that you believe them and that it is not their fault. Remind them that it is good, and that they have done the right thing, to have spoken out and told the truth

  • Recognise and praise children for their bravery in speaking out, for their resilience and their strength

  • Listen to children if they want to talk about their feelings. Try not to confuse their feelings with your own

  • Avoid telling people about the offence without asking the children first. Children frequently do not want people to know about what has happened to them and it is important to respect their privacy

  • Ask adult friends and family not to question the child or discuss the case in front of the child. If children wish to discuss what happened with someone else they will do so

  • Someone at the child’s school or pre-school may need to be told about what has happened and / or that the child will need to attend court. Ask the child who they trust at school and who they may be able to talk to about what is happening

  • Do not assume that children’s feelings about the accused are the same as your own. Children may have very mixed feelings about the accused. Counselling and time can help children to sort out their feelings

  • Do not assume that children will be traumatised or suffer long term emotional damage because of the court process. Although it may be stressful, the court process can be empowering for children, especially if they are well prepared and feel supported throughout the process

  • Try not to worry children with adult worries, the concerns you may have, or your opinions about the case. Children can pick up on these feelings easily and it may create or add to their anxiety about going to court.

Getting ready for court

  • Children and young people who are victims of crime have rights under the Charter of Victims Rights. For instance, you and the child or young people have the right to be kept informed of the progress of the case. You can let the prosecutor know how much information you and the child or young person would like about the progress of the case and the best way for this to be communicated

  • If the child or young person is a witness in the case, please ensure you tell prosecutor, Witness Assistance Officer or Police Officer-in-Charge of any changes in your contact details

  • Inform the prosecutor of any particular needs the child or young person may have - for example: a disability, a medical condition, or if they require an interpreter

  • Tell the prosecutor what dates you would not be available for Court -  dates such as significant school or sporting commitments or medical treatment

  • Discuss any safety concerns the child or young person may have with the prosecutor or Police Officer-in-Charge

  • Where possible get a counsellor or a Witness Assistance Officer to help the child prepare for going to court and to arrange a visit to the court before they give evidence.  You can organise this with the ODPP

  • Children can review their electronically recorded statement and/ or read their statement/transcript before going to court. If they need help with reading it, speak to the prosecutor or the Police Officer-in-Charge. Also speak with the prosecutor about the most appropriate time for listening to or viewing their statement on tape, video or DVD before going to court

  • Avoid asking the child for details of the offence. If the child wants to add something to their evidence, contact the Police Officer-in-Charge and arrange a time to speak with them

  • Do not rehearse children’s evidence with them. If you do, the Defence lawyer may argue in court that they have been coached or that the evidence has become contaminated. This may affect the outcome of the trial

  • It is important for children not to feel as though they are being pressured by the adults around them. It is important that they have space and a chance to give their views about what is taking place, how they would like to give evidence at court and who they would like as their support person at court. Speak to the prosecutor about the options available to child witnesses

  • If you are the support person for the child when they give evidence, please make sure you understand the role of support person. There is a brochure Information for Court Support Persons available through WAS and a WAS Officer can assist you prepare for this role

  • Avoid making promises about the legal process or outcomes, such as the accused being found guilty and being sent to gaol. No one can predict the outcome of a criminal prosecution. It is better to talk about the range of options or possibilities

  • WAS Officers at the ODPP have experience in working with children and young people. They can assist you and the child or young person with information, updates, referrals for counselling, liaising with the prosecutor, providing court preparation and court familiarisation visits and arranging court support. The WAS also has specialist Aboriginal WAS Officers.

Resources for Parents and Carers

 The following resources might be of assistance to you.  

  • Helping make it Better. Helping Your Child: Important information for parents and carers about the sexual assault of children. This brochure has been written by the Education Centre Against Violence for NSW Health. It is for parents and carers supporting children and young people who are victims of child sexual assault

  • Helping Children Cope with Trauma This information sheet is produced by Victims Services Attorney General’s department of NSW

  • Justicejouney at  www.victimsservices.justice.nsw.gov.au  is a website for victims and witnesses of crime and their families. On this site you’ll find lots of information including Be Courtwise – a brochure full of information and activities for children and young people and their parents and carers about going to court

  • Charter of Victims Rights. Victims Rights Act (1996)

  • Supporting Victims and Witnesses at Court: Information for Court Support Persons This information package is available from the Witness Assistance Service if you are going to be the child’s support person.

You can contact the witness assistance service to obtain these resources or other information and resources for children.