When your child is a witness
To follow are some of the ways you as a parent or carer can provide emotional support to your child during the prosecution process:
- Treat the child as you normally would, not as someone who is fragile or different to how they were before.
- Try to maintain normal routines and activities.
- Counselling can be arranged if your child needs it. It can take time and perseverance to find a counsellor a child feels comfortable with. It can also take time to see any benefits from counselling. This is normal, but if you have any concerns, discuss them with the counsellor.
- Sometimes children will need a break from counselling. Again, this is perfectly normal. Remember, the child can always reconnect with their counsellor before the prosecution begins.
- Reassure the child of your support by letting them know that you believe them and that what happened is not their fault. Remind them that they have done the right thing in speaking out and telling the truth, and praise their bravery in doing so.
- Also recognise and praise their resilience and strength.
- Avoid telling people about the offence without first asking the child. Children often do not want others to know about what has happened to them and it’s important to respect their privacy.
- Ask adult friends and family not to question the child about the case or to discuss it in front of them. If children wish to talk to someone about what happened, 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 whom they trust and feel comfortable with.
- Listen to the child if they want to talk about their feelings. Try not to confuse their feelings with your own, or assume that their feelings about the accused will be the same as yours. Their feelings may be very mixed. Counselling and time can help in sorting them out.
Don’t assume the child will be traumatised or suffer long term emotional damage because of the court process. Although it may be stressful, giving evidence can also be empowering for children, especially if they are well prepared and feel supported.
- Try not to worry the child with concerns you may have about the case. Children pick up on adult worries and this may create or add to their anxiety about going to court.
- You are a very important person to the child. To ensure you can support them during this time, you may also benefit from counselling and / or support. You may also find it helpful to debrief with a trusted friend or counsellor after the matter has ended.
- Children who are victims of crime and their parents or carers have rights under the NSW Charter of Victims Rights. These include being kept informed of the progress of the case. You can let the prosecutor know how much information you and the child would like, and how you would like to receive it.
- If the child is a witness, make sure you tell the prosecutor, their WAS officer or the police officer-in-charge of any changes in your contact details.
- Also tell the prosecutor if your child has particular needs – for example, if they have a disability or a medical condition, or require an interpreter.
- You should also let the prosecutor know of any dates on which the child is unavailable for court – such as for significant school or sporting commitments or medical appointments.
- Discuss any safety concerns the child may have with the prosecutor or police officer-in-charge.
- Where possible, get a counsellor or a WAS officer to help the child prepare for going to court, including by arranging a visit to the court before they give evidence. You can organise this with the ODPP.
- Children can view their electronically recorded statement and / or read their statement / transcript before going to court. If the child needs help reading the statement / transcript, speak to the prosecutor or the police officer-in-charge. Speak to the prosecutor about the best time before the court date for the child to read or view the statement / transcript.
- Avoid asking the child for details about the offence. If they want to add something to their evidence, contact the police officer-in-charge and arrange for the child to talk to them.
- Don’t rehearse the child’s evidence with them. If you do, the defence lawyer may argue in court that the child has been coached or that the evidence has become contaminated. This may affect the outcome of the trial.
- It’s important for children not to feel as though they are being pressured by the adults around them. They should be given space and a chance to give their views about what is taking place, how they would like to give evidence in court (the prosecutor can explain the different options available) and whom they would like in court as their support person.
- Avoid making promises about the legal process or outcomes, such as that the accused will be found guilty and sent to prison. No-one can predict the results of these matters. It is better to instead talk about the different possible outcomes.
- WAS officers are experienced in working with children. They can assist you and the child with information, provide updates on the matter, give referrals for counselling, liaise with the prosecutor, help with court preparation, take you on a court visit before the matter is heard, and arrange court support. Specialist Aboriginal WAS officers can provide culturally appropriate support to Aboriginal child witnesses and parents or carers.