When children pass through the doors into a courtroom, they enter a formal adult setting that is designed for the resolution of often contentious adult arguments. All children are anxious in a courtroom, but the setting and the nature of the stressors on the child depend on the nature of the court proceeding and the child's role in the process. Three situations typically bring children into court: child protection actions, contested parental divorce, and delinquency offenses. A child also might be a witness in a criminal proceeding as the result of an abusive incident. Only rarely will children need to be present for other types of cases, such as adoptions or traffic offenses.
“Whether children should testify is a difficult decision in cases of physical abuse and neglect. Several studies have described the emotional effects of testimony on children who have been sexually abused. Some researchers believe that children benefit from facing their abuser” (Impact of legal intervention on sexually abused children, pg. 647). This suggests that when children see the abuser take responsibility for his or her acts, their sense of self-worth and personal safety improves. The other concern is that child witnesses will experience distress sufficient to affect the reliability of their testimony and exacerbate their feelings of victimization and stigmatization. “In addition, when children are asked to serve as a witness against a family member with whom they might have positive attachments and negative experiences, they are being placed in the awkward position of "sentencing" a family member” (The child as witness: competency and credibility, pg. 473).
According to Crosson-Tower, abused and neglected children faced with the prospect of going to court do need additional assistance to manage with the stress namely referred to as system induced trauma. This includes but not limited to:
* Education about the court process
* Stress management procedures such as breathing...