Offences involving Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents represent some of the most vulnerable victims and witnesses in the Criminal Justice System (CJS).  Offences involving children and adolescents are commonly sensitive, distressing and difficult for those involved.

For the vast majority of children, reporting a crime is outside of their experience and control.  In most cases children just want the offending to stop and the prospect of talking about the offences with strangers, going to court, or potentially giving evidence in a criminal trial, is extremely challenging.

The DPP automatically refers all child and adolescent victims and witnesses to the Witness Assistance Service (WAS) due to their age and vulnerability within the CJS.  The WAS is a team of senior social work professionals who are trained to provide specialised and dedicated support to child victims and witnesses throughout  the duration of the legal matter.  When the victim is a child or adolescent the WAS also provide a service to their parents / guardians.

The legal process has a number of stages which can be quite involved and lengthy. In our work with children and adolescents we have observed a number of key stress points for children which can include:

  • reporting the incident to the South Australian Police
  • meeting with the staff of the DPP for the first time
  • attending a legal meeting / proofing meeting.
  • attending court
  • giving evidence in a criminal trial
  • learning the verdict and / or sentence outcome
  • managing parents expectations of the child and the legal process

All children are different, but our experience in working with children and adolescents shows that they cope better with the legal process and giving evidence when:

  • they feel supported by family and friends
  • they engage with counselling
  • parent / guardians also receive support from family, friends and / or a counsellor
  • they receive information about the process in a way they can understand
  • they are given choices and are consulted about decisions that will affect them;
  • their feelings and views are taken into account and supported
  • there is consistency in staff
  • they are properly prepared for meetings, proofings and giving evidence in trial
  • they have access to special court arrangements and provisions (called Vulnerable Witness Provisions);
  • when the process/environment is supportive of the child

It is important that child and adolescent victims know that their family will support their views, feelings and choices in the legal process.  Under the Victims of Crime Act 2001, all victims of crime have the rights to information, to be consulted about decisions that will affect them, to make choices, and express their own views (where they can) about decisions involving them. This is no different for children and adolescents. Children find it more difficult to cope with the legal process and giving evidence when they are placed under pressure to:

  • talk about the allegations,
  • give evidence in court,
  • NOT proceed with a prosecution,
  • guarantee a conviction,
  • feel responsible for the distress that others may feel.

Placing any pressure on a child or adolescent, as part of the CJS process, can contribute to existing trauma and potentially lead to serious wellbeing concerns.

As mentioned above, there are special provisions available for vulnerable victims and witnesses including children and adolescents that are intended to make giving evidence in court less stressful and more comfortable.   These Vulnerable Witness Provisions (VWPs) can include:

  • giving evidence from a separate room via Closed Circuit Television
  • having a dedicated  support person or Court Companion with them
  • giving evidence with the use of a partition and One-Way Screen
  • having the Court Closed to all members of the public

Please refer to the topic Vulnerable Witness Provisions for more information on the provisions available and the process for applying.

It is also helpful for children and adolescents to have Counselling and Support in place throughout the legal process, in particular before, during and after giving evidence at Trial.   Good support assists victims to increase their wellbeing and cope better with the process.   Please refer to the phone numbers provided below.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
Noarlunga 8326 1234
Marion 8298 7744
Seaford Outreach 8236 1234
Paradise 8207 8999
Port Adelaide 8341 1222
Elizabeth 8252 0133

Child Protection Services                                                             (Families SA or SAPOL referral required)

Women’s and Children’s Hospital

Head space                                                                                                                                 1800 650 890

http://headspace.org.au/

 

Sexual Assault counselling 12 – 25 years                                                                               8202 5060

Therapeutic Youth Services, Uniting Communities

 

Childhood Sexual Abuse Counselling Team                                                                        8202 5190

Family Services, Uniting Communities

 

For more phone numbers for counselling services please refer to our page on Referral and Support Services.