Be sure to be calm, reassuring and positive about the importance of court.
Describe and explain court to the young person
Go through the who, what, when, where and why of court
- WHO: Tell her who will be present (in person) and what each person’s role/job is
- WHAT: Talk about what will happen in court and what next steps might happen after court
- WHEN AND WHERE: Consider a visit to the court building ahead of time for a tour, to see the court room and even meet the judge if possible. If not, use the coloring books and court seating chart as tools to help explain what the court experience will be like
- WHY: Explain what this court hearing is for and why his or her voice is important
Respond to any questions the child may have!
Explain your role
- You will be with the young person throughout the day, or if not, who will
- You will talk to the judge and/or lawyers too â€“ let the young person know the types of things you hope to talk about
- Describe how you will follow up afterward to find out what will happen- be sure children know there is a process involved with many steps that often take a lot of time
- Promise to keep them posted throughout the process and then keep your word!
- Talk about how it might feel if friends, or school mates hear that they are going to court. Practice or role play what they might talk about – what is comfortable for them to share and what can be kept private – offer to come visit their school and talk to classmates or teachers if this would be helpful
Getting ready to come
- Suggest comfortable clothing, consider a change of clothes if a child gets easily messy (i.e. food spills, drools, incontinence, etc)
- It’s a good idea to bring an item that will help the child feel comfortable, especially during the waiting time- A favorite book or sports item, a small, hand-held craft activity (i.e. coloring book) or hand-held game (not electronic! It may get confiscated at security!) a photo album, a stuffed animal, etc
- Continue to be positive – and think about ways to make it a special day!
Getting ready for the interview with lawyers or judges
- Talk about being polite, yet being yourself, taking your time, speaking slowing and loud enough to be heard
- Let the child know it is OK if he or she does not understand a question to ask for it to be repeated or explained before answering. Also, if asked an uncomfortable question, the child can ask the judge “Do I have to answer that?”The judge may say no, or possibly yes, but even if the answer is yes, asking the question gives the child a few extra moments to think and feel more in control of the situation
- Role play some of the possible questions that might be asked – let the child have a chance to play the role of lawyer or judge!
- Work together to make a list of special topics the child would like to be sure to talk about – hobbies, awards, likes & dislikes, favorite subject in school, pets, as well as particular questions he or she wants to ask the judge.
After the court date
- Provide a de-briefing opportunity for the child to process the many and often mixed feelings he or she will have from this experience
- If you were not present, follow up with the attorney or CASA to learn what happened and what the next steps are so you can explain to the child
- Stay in touch with these people and keep the child posted about progress
- If there seems to be a lot of time before any next steps happen, or there are court delays, be reassuring to the child, reminding him or her that it often takes many different efforts to move everything along in their case – at the same time provide support and opportunities to express feelings.
Source: “My Life, My voice, My Future: Involving Youth in Family Court”, Coalition 2006 Annual Conference Workshop Presentation by Sue Badeau & Madelyn Freundlich