Children in court - Part 1
Proposal to establish the Witness Service as an independent adult support for child witnesses
This paper outlines:
- The role of the independent adult support for child witnesses.
- A system of referral for child witnesses to the Witness Service.
- An evaluation proposal to assess such a plan for a pilot period.
The role of the independent adult support
The role of the independent adult support is more fully explained in a letter from the Home Office, Lord Chancellor's Department and Department of Health which accompanied the Child Witness Pack. In brief, the independent adult support aims to build the child's confidence about their court appearance through pre-trial preparation and support on the day. This person also conveys information about the child's needs to the relevant agencies and liaises closely with the Child Liaison Officer based at the Crown Court. The adult should ideally:
have an awareness of the needs of abused children.
be knowledgeable about the criminal justice system.
have the confidence of the police and CPS and the ability to work with other agencies.
be familiar with the basic rules of evidence and the danger of inadvertently contaminating or otherwise discrediting the child's evidence and a working knowledge of the Memorandum of Good Practice on video recorded interviews.
There are a range of practitioners from various agencies who meet all or some of these criteria. Witness Service volunteers receive training in court procedures and in the support of victims/witnesses. Additional training focused on child abuse cases in court and the needs of children could be added to this.
The role of the Witness Service
The Witness Service is run by Victim Support and is currently based at 39 Crown Court Centres in England and Wales. The service aims to provide free and confidential information and support to victims, witnesses and their families before, during and after the hearing.
The presence of the Witness Service in the Crown Court has already led to a number of requests being made for the support of child witnesses. Volunteers involved in this work have received additional training, delivered under a variety of arrangements with other local agencies.
It is proposed that pilot project be established, and subjected to formal evaluation.
The aims of the project would be to highlight:
* the support needs of child witnesses
* the definition of an effective service to child witnesses
* the effectiveness of the Child Witness Pack
* the training needs of supporters
*current difficulties affecting children in the court system (eg. transfer of cases).
The report proposes a referral procedure negotiated with the approval of the appropriate ACPCs and in particular concerning the police and Social Services. It is acknowledged that the Witness Service may not be the most appropriate referral agency in every case. There may be, for example, a social worker or police officer who more appropriately meets the needs of the child. Criteria would need to be established as to when Victim Support would become involved. Factors that could influence this could include the age of the child, special needs of the child and lack of availability of other personnel - particularly if they are giving evidence in the case. The referral and support would be as follows:
- referral made by police officer/social worker through established procedure to Witness Service
- Witness Service makes contact with the child through parents/guardian/social worker (as appropriate)
- two visits at least offered in advance of the trial, one at the child's home and one at court for CCTV and court room familiarisation
- on the day of the trial Witness Service volunteer accompanies child into CCTV link room
- post trial, refer the child back to the social worker or to appropriate agency
- offer one more home visit post trial if appropriate.
Ideally the same volunteer will be involved in the support from beginning to end. However, it must be recognised that this may not be possible in every case, although continuity of support is obviously a priority. The co-ordinator of the Witness Service will provide a continuous link. (Some cases are transferred from ... Crown Court, and arrangements may need to be made to provide pre-trial support in the child's home area).
Selection of volunteers
Agreement will be sought between agencies on selection criteria and methods of selection. The project is based on the expectation that those participating will mainly be Witness Service volunteers who show interest and are agreed by an appropriate selection panel to be suitable for this work. Personnel from other agencies could of course be included, as agreed.
It is proposed training would consist of two days' specialised training for selected volunteers. Volunteers will already have undergone a five day Witness Service training programme, police check and references in preparation for work at the Crown Court. The additional training would be delivered with inputs from Social Services, Police and Crown Prosecution Service. The co-ordination of the training will be the responsibility of the evaluator outlined below. The first training course will consist of between twelve and fifteen participants made up of existing Witness Service volunteers, and other agency personnel.
Content of training
This will be based on:
Preparing child witnesses for court. Training and resource guide. NSPCC, 1994.
This guide is now in final draft. It was co-ordinated by the NSPCC, with contributions from the major national child care agencies and for Victim Support.
Volunteer supervision and support
The Witness Service co-ordinator is responsible for volunteer supervision. However, Social Services input to support and supervision for this project may also be helpful, within an agreed framework.
Co-ordination and evaluation
It is proposed that a person is identified to co-ordinate the training programme and evaluate the referral procedures and support provided. This person has not yet been identified, although a draft proposal from Joyce Plotnikoff, co-ordinator of the Child Witness Pack, is attached. Overall responsibility will rest with Victim Support's National Office.