Whether they are a witness to a crime or a victim, children are unfortunately often called upon to give testimony in court. And while every situation is different, those pulled into the process face the potential of suffering long-lasting trauma from the experience.
Since the mid-1970s, London’s Family Court Clinic has provided support for children and youths involved in the court process and their families.
Now the clinic is moving to centralize all the agencies involved — whether it’s police, social workers, or health care providers — under one roof.
It’s called the Beacon House Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC), a new part of the legal clinic’s Pall Mall Street Location that will include two new interview rooms and new services. The idea is to bring different agencies together in one location to streamline and simplify a difficult process for families.
‘Singular access point’
A key goal is avoiding a situation where kids have to tell their stories multiple times to staff from multiple agencies. Participating partners include St. Joseph’s Health Care London, the London Police Service and the Children’s Aid Society of London-Middlesex.
“It creates a singular access point and a less traumatic experience for the children,” said Tuhin Jajal, the clinic’s executive director. “Normally, children in the system have to provide and tell their story to multiple different agencies and individuals at multiple times.”
Jajal said it’s not unheard of for children to have to retell their story a half-dozen times or more.
“This approach allows us to focus on care and the families to focus on healing,” he said.
London’s Family Court Clinic provides support for a few hundred youth and child clients each year. Because the system is often under strain, Jajal said it’s crucial that agencies work together to help clients.
When children or youths have to testify in court, they are first connected with an advocate worker at the CYAC who will guide them through all the support systems available.
Two new interview rooms are under construction and set to open before year’s end.
Jajal said they’ve made an effort to ensure the new spaces have a kid-friendly feel, one that’s purposely not institutional. Some volunteers have painted murals on the walls.
Jajal said access to the spaces would also be tightly controlled to protect clients’ privacy.
With construction underway, the legal clinic is seeking donations, including toys, snacks, furniture, and more.
Anyone interested in helping can visit: www.beaconhouselondon.ca/donate to contribute.