Child Witness Project
Type of Approach:
Provider Education Level:
Type of services:
Program to prepare and support child and teen witnesses to help them communicate evidence to the court without being traumatized by the challenging process of being a witness.
Most services are delivered in the courthouse
Type of provider:
Mental health clinicians
Length of program/number of sessions:
Variable number of sessions depending upon the time until case resolution and individual needs; typically from one to ten.
Type(s) of trauma addressed:
Any interpersonal criminal victimization in which a person under 18 years of age is a victim/complainant or witnessed a violent crime, including domestic violence, and is expected to testify. Cases typically involve child physical or sexual abuse, peer violence, teen dating violence, or witnessing domestic violence.
Referrals are received from police
The Child Witness Project, started in 1987, was the first of two such programs for child witnesses in Canada and has now served over 10,000 young people.
Ethnic Racial Group:
Age range of children:
4 to 18 years of age and developmentally delayed, young adults.
Parent/adult caregiver included in intervention:
Non-offending parents or other caregivers are involved in the intake assessment and also may be prepared for court if they are expected to be a witness. They are advised of case developments on an on-going basis and asked for feedback at case conclusion.
Ethnic/racial and other groups served:
First Nations reserves are within the program’s catchment area.
Specific cultural adaptations:
Project staff has expertise on First Nation issues.
English; interpreters are used when needed (most common languages are Spanish and Arabic).
Based on assumption that children and teens will provide higher quality evidence if they know what to expect, have a chance to practice question and answer skills, learn to be appropriately assertive in response to poorly worded or misleading questions, develop coping and stress management skills, and can be protected from common stressors on the day of court (e.g., seeing the accused or his/her supporters in the waiting area). Training is provided to legal professionals to understand and meet the needs of children and to question, and explain things and instruct children using age-appropriate language. The preparation strategies were first developed after a review of the psychology literature and have been refined through more than twenty years of practice.
Feedback is solicited from all families. Court observation studies have been conducted to rate the quality of children’s testimony.
A comparison of specialized court preparation for children with the status quo court support provided to adult witnesses indicated an increase in children’s knowledge of court procedures, reduced levels of children’s anxiety, and improved quality of testimony. The results were not published.
Child Witness Project. 1993. Three Years After the Verdict: A Study of the Social and Psychological Adjustment of Child Witnesses Referred to the Child Witness Project. London ON: London Family Court Clinic.
Cunningham A, Hurley P. 2007. A Full and Candid Account”: Using Special Accommodations and Testimonial Aids to Facilitate the Testimony of Children. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.
Heslop L, Enright C, Cunningham A, Hurley P, Stevens L. 2006. When Teens Hurt Teens: Implications for Child Witness Support Programs. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.
Replicated in other Canadian jurisdictions where funding is available for specialized child witness programs.
Rated/Reviewed by Evidence Based Registries:
This intervention was not rated by the registries/databases we reviewed.
Alison Cunningham; firstname.lastname@example.org
Cunningham A, Stevens L. 2011. Helping a Child Be a Witness in Court: 101 Things to Know, Say and Do. London, ON: Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System. Available at: www.lfcc.on.ca
Cunningham A. 2009. The Journey to Justice: A Guide to Thinking, Talking and Working as a Team for Young Victims of Crime in Canada’s North. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System. Available at: www.lfcc.on.ca
Availability of training:
English and French