Kathryn Ford, the Center’s Director of Child Witness Initiatives, speaks with Geri Wisner, a prosecutor from Oklahoma, and Jennifer Thompson, a victim advocate and counselor from Georgia, about how they have been using the Office for Victims of Crime's Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials to inform and empower children as they interact with the justice system.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
GERI WISNER: Being able to give the resources and the information to kids and to the caregivers is I think really exciting because I know that they have so much going on and I want them to be able to focus on other things. And sometimes this can redirect them also back to, okay, one thing at a time.
KATHRYN FORD: Hello, my name is Kathryn Ford and I'm the director of child witness initiatives at the Center for Court Innovation. Welcome to this podcast on the Center's Child Witness Materials project. For children interacting with the justice system as a crime victim or witness can be confusing, distressing, and even re-traumatizing. Historically, justices and practitioners working with this population have not had access to tools that enable them to support child victims and witnesses in a developmentally appropriate and trauma-informed manner. To address this need, the US Office for Victims of Crime, has recently published the child victim and witness support material created through the Center for Court Innovations, OVC funded child witness materials development project developed in collaboration with expert practitioners from around the country. The project resulted in a package of interactive educational materials for children, teens, their caregivers, and the justice system practitioners that work with them, including prosecutors, law enforcement, victim advocates, child welfare workers, and mental health professionals.
There are two sets of materials, one on the criminal legal system and one on the child welfare system with three age groups for each. Two to six, seven to 12 and 13 to 18 years old. The materials teach children about the legal system process, including potential paths their case may take, the roles of the practitioners involved in the system, their rights as a victim or witness, tools for healthy coping and tips for those who testify. Accompanying practitioner and caregiver guides provides suggestions for how to use the materials with children and tips for supporting child victims and witnesses. All project materials are available for free download through OVC's website, at ovc.ogp.gov\childvictimsandwitnessessupport. I have two expert practitioners with me for this conversation today. Geri Wisner, who is a tribal and federal prosecutor specializing in crimes against children, and Jennifer Thompson, a victim advocate and licensed counselor from a prosecutor's office in Georgia. Geri, can you please tell us more about your work?
GERI WISNER: Thank you for the invitation to participate. My name is Geri Wisner. I am Muscogee Creek. I am a tribal prosecutor and have been prosecuting for approximately 20 years. I handle both criminal and civil and family matters related to tribal practice.
KATHRYN FORD: Thank you, Geri, for being with us today. Jennifer, can you please tell us more about your work?
JENNIFER THOMPSON: Good morning, Kathryn. And thank you for inviting me to participate. My name is Jennifer Thompson. I'm a victim advocate with the DeKalb County district attorney's office located Decatur, Georgia. I work in the crimes against children's unit, which prosecutes involving children who are victims of crime in DeKalb County. I'm also a licensed professional counselor and I've been doing victim advocacy for about eight years now.
FORD: Thank you, Jennifer, for being with us today. So I have some questions for the two of you about the child witness materials and out supporting child victims and witnesses as they navigate the legal system. Can you tell us about some of the challenges that practitioners have in supporting child victims and witnesses, either speaking from your personal experience or thinking about the field as a whole?
WISNER: In my experience, I would say that working with children both in the criminal and civil aspect is probably one of the most challenging perspectives of the work I feel. Because children are not little adults, they're children. And working with children, preparing for court is something that you were never taught in law school. When I think about this from a kid's perspective, they're going to be likely experiencing the re-traumatization of the abuse or the trauma that they have witnessed. And in order for me to be a good prosecutor and get successful convictions or do what's in the best interest of the child with respect to our civil cases, I have to look at matters from a child's perspective. And not just any child, a child who has experienced significant trauma or witnessed the trauma. And so with that, it forces you to step back a moment and reevaluate everything from our processes, being the legal system, what are the civil procedures? What are the criminal procedures? And what are the various things that can happen during a trial or even getting ready for trial?
And then from a kid's perspective who have no experience in this, I have to start from the very beginning and be supportive of them and their family and their caregivers because if I lose the caregivers who are going to support this child through this process, then I likely will lose the support and the input of the child. So reevaluating, how can I protect this child throughout the process of the case, preparing them to testify and helping them through this so that afterwards it's not the end of it because there are healing therapies and various things that are still going to be necessary for them. How do I set them up in a good way so that I am strong with my case, but I'm also protecting this child with resources and people around them who can help the child through the process.
FORD: Thank you, Geri. And how about you, Jennifer, in your experience, what are some of the challenges that practitioners face in supporting child victims and witnesses?
THOMPSON: In my experience, one of the things that's most challenging and frustrating, is that it seems like the criminal justice process in itself is not very child friendly. So, from the beginning where the child has to be interviewed by law enforcement and then there's the forensic interview. So, they can be interviewed multiple times, meeting numerous people and having to explain what happened to them, which can potentially re-traumatize them. That's one of the challenges that I've seen and also one of the frustrations. And then also, the fact that what they've been through is already so traumatic. So, that's hard in and of itself. And then to have to go through this process makes sit 10 times worse. That combined with the fear of the unknown, most kids don't know anything about criminal court except for what they see on television or what they hear. And that can be pretty scary.
Then the parents play a big part as well. Most parents don't want their kids to have to go through this process, whether it's go back and forth to court or be interviewed multiple times and definitely having to testify. So, oftentimes parents are reluctant because they're being protective, but that's a challenge as well, trying to get the parent to understand that their case is not just a number, their child is not just a number, because oftentimes I'll hear parents say, "Well, I know you have so many cases or you probably don't have time." And I want them to know that, "No, your case is as important as any other. You're not a number, I'm here to support you." And so we want them to feel comfortable and know that we are on their side and because so many have maybe not had or seen positive experiences with the criminal justice system, that can be a challenge just trying to get them to accept help or to have trust in us. Because in a lot of communities, there's a lack of trust.
FORD: Thank you. That's very helpful. And at the outside of our conversation, I talked a little bit about the materials that we have recently developed and that have been published by OVC. Could each of you talk a little bit about how you believe these materials help fill some of the gaps and resources and knowledge in the field and how practitioners can use the materials?
WISNER: Yes. I would say that the materials in my experience have been very helpful and I'm hoping that they are helpful to others as well. So, I shared this with my MDT, my multidisciplinary team, and made up of law enforcement, child advocates, various practitioners to include behavioral health and medical health. But what we discuss is the anticipation that every kid is likely going to testify. So when we start even with the investigation, we respond to the outcry or disclosure, we treat it and we work with the child and their non-offending caregivers as if we're going to prepare for trial. And with that, law enforcement advocates everyone else involved recognize why are we working with this child in this way? Why are we doing this multidisciplinary approach? But also recognizing there are various things that we are doing in anticipation of trial. Most cases don't go to trial, which is good.
However, while we are working with a victim and their family, we are providing them resources such as counseling, therapy. Sometimes it's simple things such as clothes. What this does also, is help them and make sure that they are in a secure place, but continuing to work with them, the behavioral health, the medical health, schooling, different things so that if they are taking care of knowing that there is a timeline of things that they come forward, the materials help as a checklist. And every child and every case is going to be different. But if you have a checklist and a go by for practitioners, this is a good foundational start. If you think back on many people's experience, it's by trial and error. I think this is the hope that we are taking a lot more of the error out and also for practitioners again, and specifically prosecutors, a lot of the ego and the show in how we conduct ourselves, how we handle our cases, so much of it is dependent on how are we working with this victim who is a child?
FORD: Thank you, Geri. And how about you, Jennifer? What do you think about how these materials can be helpful in practice?
THOMPSON: I think these materials can be helpful. Well, what we usually do is when we know that a case is going to go to a trial, we'll bring the child in with the parent, we'll bring them into the courtroom and give them a tour of the courtroom and to explain the process. But historically, if a case is not going to trial, then we may not have much interaction with that child, because they're not coming to court dates. It's mostly just the parent that we are informing and keeping updated. So, I think these materials are good because they can be given to all of our child victims because it explains the criminal justice process from beginning to end. So, it can be used to compliment what we already do in terms of court school, but it just helps explain the process in a child-friendly way. It's very thorough, especially like the book that explains who the child is going to meet from the very beginning law enforcement, forensic interviewer, the advocate, the prosecutor.
So then they're able to get an idea who all the people are involved with the case who they might meet at some point in time. And it also serves as a reference that they can go back to because you can't expect them to remember all of this. But it's something that they can refer to throughout the process. I think it also provides a way for them to get questions answered that they may be thinking that maybe they're afraid to ask as well as to ask questions about what they read and give their caretakers and practitioners an idea of what they're thinking and feeling, and then we can go from that and make sure we give them the support that they need.
So I definitely think that these are wonderful in terms of being able to just support kids throughout the process, as well as their caregivers, because I think a lot of times when I speak to parents and I explain the process, I tell them, I said, "I know you're not going to remember and I'll explain this to you as many times as I need to." But again, the parent will have a reference to look back on and to be able to keep abreast of what to expect in this process that is so confusing and so frightening for both the parent and the child.
WISNER: And if I can add on to what Jennifer was just saying, which is absolutely, I agree with all of it. When she mentioned the introduction to people they will meet. One of the things that we do as a practice matter, is I have pictures of everyone that would include the judge, the court clerk, who I anticipate will be there. The bailiff. Sometimes if I can get a defense attorney, usually they have a picture online somewhere. And then different pictures of faces if there is a jury trial and I have a notebook, a big binder with the pictures. And when I mentioned, as Jennifer said, the introduction to the people, I pull out the pictures and say, "This is what they look like." And even when I take them into the courtroom to give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with where people will be, what people will be there, I use those pictures again and I will take them to the seats or to the areas where they will be located in the courtroom. So, we can take that anticipation out of it. I think the familiarity of that is really important.
FORD: Yeah, that's such a nice example, Geri of how practitioners can really utilize the materials that we've created and tailor them and adapt them to their particular settings and to their work. I just wanted to piggyback on some of the points, Jennifer and you Geri as well were making about how very often practitioners doing this type of work, even if they've been doing it for quite a long time, have not had access to specialized training on working with child victims and witnesses and or may not have very many of these cases. So, it's difficult to develop that area of expertise in specialization. And I think these yours can really help in that regard, by making sure as you mentioned, Geri, like you have kind of a checklist, you're covering all of the bases and actually the materials provide language that you can use to explain some of these things to kids.
And we do know as Jennifer was alluding to that, when we explain to kids how the system works in a way that they understand and what may be happening next and who are, are all these grownups that they have to talk to, and we validate their feelings and thoughts about having to interact with the system, it really does decrease their anxiety, their distress, it increases their ability to participate in the legal system as well. So, what kind of practitioners do you think can best use these materials with child victims and witnesses?
WISNER: For anyone who is working with children, anyone who would be involved with the multidisciplinary team, the MDT, as well as judges. I think that it's important for judges to know what to anticipate and to remind them that again, these are not little adults, they're children and children's should be handled accordingly. There are developmental concerns, age-appropriate, anticipations that should be taken. And the materials help remind practitioners of those things. We have to work together as a team to be able to prepare them. And it's my job as a prosecutor to also prepare and protect them. So, anyone associated with the legal field, the system, the process, I would highly recommend. And even if they don't have hands on work with the children, just the knowledge of the processes that go into it for advocates, behavioral health, medical health, I think these are very good in helping understand a trauma-informed practice of looking at things and reminding us to reevaluate from the perspective of a child witness for victim.
FORD: Thank you. Anything you'd like to add about that, Jennifer, in terms of what kinds of practitioners you think can best use these materials?
THOMPSON: Yeah. I agree with Geri, that pretty much anyone involved in the process that's going to have contact with the child, I think it would be helpful for them to get an understanding of what court looks like from a child's perspective and to also know what their rights are as a child, maybe some of the concerns a child might have, that they have not thought of that after reading the material, they will now be aware of. So, I did share the link with my MDT and I'm hoping that once we get the material in person and we start meeting in person, that I'll have physical copies to share with them, but I think it would be great for advocates, prosecutors, school and hospitals, social workers, case managers from the division of family and children's services, child advocacy offices, law enforcement, therapists, because I think is something in there that each of those practitioners could use.
And Kathryn, you had mentioned something about even the language that is used in the book. I think that talking to kids is not everyone's forte or teenagers. And it's interesting when you read the materials geared towards the different age ranges, how the language changes. And I think that is a good reference guide for practitioners to kind of adapt and not use the same phrases, but to learn how to speak to kids of different ages and things that they may be able to say that'll help a child understand or feel more comfortable.
FORD: Thank you. And then thinking about each of your practice, have either of you used the materials yet in your practice? How do you foresee using them?
WISNER: I have already used them. I was excited about this project and excited to hand it out because when we recognize if and if we're doing court review or we're preparing for court with the child and the caregiver, the fact that we are going into and talking about with the child, a time of trauma, they are likely to forget matters, they're going to be anxious. They're going to feel overwhelmed. And I'm talking about being in the same room and proximity as the defendant and the suspect in this matter. So, their minds are going to be so many different places. Being able to give them something, some written materials. And the caregivers as well. They have so many different things on their mind, remembering all these different steps that we're mentioning is often it's in one ear out the other ear, because they have many things they are already processing in their heads.
So being able to give the resources and the information to kids and to the caregivers, is I think really exciting because I know that they have so much going on and I want them to be able to focus on other things. And sometimes this can redirect them also back to okay, one thing at a time, remember to breathe, you can get a drink of water and pointing out to them what people are there to protect them through this process.
Thank you, Geri. How about you, Jennifer?
THOMPSON: I have not had the opportunity to use it much because we have not had a lot of in-person court, but I used it twice and I gave it to the parent of a child who had to testify. She was a witness in her sister's murder and that case went to trial. She was very anxious and just nervous about testifying. And so, I gave that to her and her mom said that she used the breathing techniques and that was very helpful in just helping her to understand what was going to happen during the trial. Even though we had explained it to her, I think sometimes when you're explaining something to a child in person, they may not even hear you because of the anxiety. And so, I think in that case, it was helpful for her to be able to have a book that she could refer to at home with her mom at a time where she was more calm and able to focus.
And then I also used it again recently with an 11-year-old victim who we had given a court school orientation maybe a year ago because the case was supposed to go to trial right before COVID and she was testifying against her perpetrator. I gave her guardian the book and asked for feedback afterwards, and the child said that she really liked it. And she also asked a question based on something that she read. And so, I was able to clarify. And so, I thought that was good because I think the books, how I plan to use them is to one, not only make them available for children who we know for certain have to testify, but for all children. And I think it will also be a good way to open up dialogue because a lot of times kids don't want to talk, but if you give them the book, you may start off with them asking questions about what they've read or at least they're aware of their rights.
So they're aware that if they're not offered a break during an interview, they can ask for a break. They're aware that they can bring something with them to an interview or to court to help keep them calm. And I think it also serves as a guide for me and people in my office. I think Geri had mentioned before using it kind of as a checklist. So kind of as a reminder, if we're giving these kids these materials and we're telling them all these rights that they have, then we have to make sure that these rights are being upheld so that they are given an opportunity to take a break. And that we do check in with them to say, how are you feeling? So, I think it's good in that sense, not just to help the child, but to help us as practitioners to make sure that what we're doing is trauma-informed.
So, I also plan to share it with more practitioners or partners, just so that we can kind of be on the same page when we talk about being trauma-informed, we want to make sure that the processes and protocols that are used from the beginning of the child's interaction with law enforcement throughout the process, to the very end, we want to make sure that we are all on the same page. So, I want to encourage others that work in the field alongside us to make sure that they're aware of what we're telling kids. So, if we're telling them, you have the right to be safe, you have the right to take breaks, you have the right to express your feelings. We want to make sure that those rights are upheld from the beginning of the process and throughout.
FORD: Thanks to both of you. Those are some really helpful insights and ideas. Any advice for other practitioners for when they use the materials?
WISNER: First of all, I would recommend this to prosecutors and again, to anyone who may be working with children and their families during a criminal matter and any kind of civil family, a domestic matter, I think too often you have new attorneys or aggressive attorneys that in order to prove the point, they will call children without a second thought, they'll call children to the stand and start asking away with a direct and then prepared, and then we have a cross-examination. Children again are not small adults. And I think that there needs to be a better practice of preparing not only the children as they're going to testify in court, but also the court needs to take into consideration what is going to happen if a child is going to testify? For example, how does the child enter into the courtroom? I think that it is not a good practice at all, that a child would enter from the back of the courtroom and walk through the gallery and then pass the little doors and up to the front next to the judge. That can be a traumatic experience.
How about using the judges chambers or the door that the judge uses to enter into the courtroom? So, you have a quick little in and a quick little out and the child doesn't have to walk through a whole litany of people, both supporters and non-supporters of this child. So, the structures of the court are a really good consideration when practitioners are looking at this and how can they improve the atmosphere, the layout of the courtroom, as well as the questions for children for another example can be an emotions practice instead of an objection being slammed on the table or attorneys jump up and make a big show about, "I object." Whatever that may be the court can say when a child is testifying that any objections or any kind of interruptions have to be done so with a raised hand for example.
Because if we looked at the federal rules of evidence, the idea is not to intimidate or make fearful this child. It is to get the information to be efficient and to get to the information that the child is going to share, instead of all these other stresses and traumas that can affect them. So, there are ways that we can do this. And the checklist and the materials that we've provided are really helpful in having everyone reevaluate how are we having children testify throughout our judicial processes?
FORD: Thanks, Geri. How about you, Jennifer, as a victim of the counselor? Any advice for other practitioners in how to use these materials? Most effectively?
THOMPSON: My advice would be to use them as early on as possible in the criminal justice process. And to also use them as a way to facilitate conversation with the child to kind of gauge where they are emotionally about the process to allow them a chance to express how they're feeling and to ask questions and have those questions answered. And I also think that we should use it to make sure that we are practicing what we preach. So, if we're telling a child that they have their right to all of these things, safety and accommodations, we want to make sure that those things are available to them and that we are thinking outside of the box. And I like what Geri mentioned about perhaps having a different point of entry for the child coming into the courtroom, because if we do want to be trauma-informed, there may be some current practices that are not in line with what's promoted in these books.
And so I think we can use these materials also to evaluate our current practices and protocols and see where we can make improvements and adjustments as necessary. And my advice is also to share with people that you work with, or that are also in contact with the child, so that we're all on the same page so that the therapist may be able to reinforce what the purpose of the victim advocate is, or what the child is going to experience when they go meet with the prosecutor. So, I think that's how helpful, so that it's less confusing because sometimes kids and parents get different information from different sources. And I think the materials help everyone to get a more accurate sense of what's to be expected. And also what it might feel like for a child who has to deal with this. It can also be used to empower children because most of my contact is with the parent, but I like the way that these materials have victims rights written in child-friendly language.
And I think that can be very empowering for kids to know that even though you're a kid, kids have rights and I think the materials touch on some basic rights which is awesome because some kids are not aware. They don't know that they have those rights as sad as it is. And then it also talks about their rights as a victim. So I think that these books can be used to empower children and let them know where they stand in the process that they're not just a victim, but they're a survivor who has the right to provide input and to speak up and to have a voice.
WISNER: And I would like to put a highlight and a gold star by what Jennifer said when she mentioned practice what you preach, because when you say something, your word is your bond. At the same time you could within your multidisciplinary team or other practitioners that you're working with, somebody changed their mind, or somebody has something different, it goes contrary to what you just said. And we want to as a team, as justice system and as providers, we want to be on the same page. I know what my advocate is going to say, and my advocate knows how I'm going to approach this as well, so that we don't have any gaps, we want to be careful not to undermine each other with trying to move ahead with what would be a best practice. Teams handling and strategizing on how to implement these materials, I think is a great idea to make sure that we all stay credible, not only to the kids and families, but to each other.
FORD: Yeah, I think that's a really nice point, Geri, an idea about how the materials can really be used by teams. As you're saying to take a look at existing practices and working with child victims and witnesses and what might be strengthened. Thinking about the materials themselves again, are there any specific elements of the materials that you really like as a practitioner and what makes these materials different from other resources that you've seen that are available for this purpose?
THOMPSON: I came across this project because we were working with a coloring book that I think had originated in Canada and had been changed to reflect our court system. And it was good, but it was really outdated. So, I was looking for something new and different. And so some of the things that I like, I like the illustrations and the fact that they reflect diversity. I like the fact that the defendant is ambiguous. You don't know really what this person looks like. The fact that it's age specific. So, other books that I've seen have not been broken down by age range. It's kind of just like a one size fits all. And we know that things need to be developmentally appropriate in terms of trauma-informed practices. So, I mentioned before that it is a really good description of the court personnel and I felt like it included more personnel than I've seen in other books.
So for example, if I had the interpreter and it mentioned that this person may interpret someone for language or someone who's deaf or hard of hearing and also probation officer, parole officer. So I think that it goes more in-depth than other books that I've seen, which I really like. And I like the fact that it really explains the process from beginning to the end and it includes victim's rights and I also love the fact that it includes a caregiver guide, because I think that's really important for the caregiver to be involved and to help their child understand the material.
FORD: Thank you, Jennifer. Yeah, both of you have mentioned the parents and caregivers a few times and we just know that they are really the most important source of support for their child and that in almost every case they need the same information about how the system works and their rights and even healthy coping as their child does. And when they have that information and those skills, they are better able to support their child. So, it's just so important to involve them and provide these materials to them as well from the very beginning if possible. And how about you, Geri? What are your favorite parts of the materials or elements and how do they compare with other things that have been available in the past?
WISNER: I really like the material to hand out to kids and their caregiver. So I have them in the courtroom, I'm explaining what will happen that morning or strategizing different things. But as I mentioned earlier, I recognize that a lot of them are in a trauma response as we're doing this. So, they may not remember it. So, giving them materials to review and go over, I think is really helpful. But what I think I'm going to start doing, is giving the material to the kids and to their caregivers earlier on in the process, not just a couple of days before trial or before we're practicing, because I think that it's a good conversation starter. For the kids, it reminds them that it's okay to be scared and it's okay to talk about it and it's not their fault.
I think it is a good reinforcement mechanism to make sure that there is no blame placed on the child and that there are different things with throughout the dialogue and through the pictures that may bring up some questions for them that I want to make myself open to, instead of saying, this is going to happen and this, this, this, this, this, but I have to give them an opportunity to ask questions and to experience or explore this themselves. So the materials provided to them, I think earlier on in the process may be a bit more than an official and give it time to sink in if it will, so that they would be better prepared and have questions and come forward with this earlier. So, I'm really liking that aspect. And the age appropriateness of this is really important because I know a couple of years back I've seen various materials where there was a box and kids could take the judge's bench and the jury's chairs and just organized the courtroom.
It was a mechanism to try to familiarize kids with where things are going to be located. And they can move it around, but if you have a 14-year-old trafficking victim, she's going to look at this and go say, "What!" So using age-appropriate materials for kids and then for caregivers so that they can help support kids through this process, I think is really helpful and how this material differs from things that I've run across in the past.
THOMPSON: I just want to comment on something that Geri said about using the materials early on. And I plan to do that as well and I have an example where the prosecutor and I recently met with a child who was, I believe he was 10 years old and his parents brought him in for an interview. The prosecutor wanted to go over the details of what happened in order to make a decision as to how to move forward. And so the child came in and he was bubbly and he was friendly and he was talking about school and his girlfriend and all these things. And he was excited and didn't seem to be shy or nervous at all. But the moment that she him about that day, he completely shut down and he said, "I don't want to talk about it." And then she made another attempt and he said, "I don't want to talk about it."
So it turns out he had no idea why he was coming to meet with us or who he was meeting with. He just knew that he or thought he was going to court. So in that moment, I thought that if he had the book that explains the initial steps of meeting with the prosecutor and the advocate and what our roles are, and that we might ask questions, but that he's able to take breaks and all that other stuff, I think he would've been prepared and maybe he would have opened up to us. So, we're going to meet with again, and I plan on giving his foster parents a copy of the book so that maybe next time he will be better prepared and just know what to expect because if you think about it, adults don't like to be thrown into the unknown. I know I don't. So, I think kids are no different. So, I think that definitely giving them this earlier on will make them feel maybe a little bit more comfortable and a little less anxious.
FORD: Thank you, Jennifer. That's a really powerful example. I appreciate that very much. And I like what both of you are saying in terms of how the materials are designed to really facilitate conversation with children and their caregivers, rather than just to be handed to them. And then we don't talk about it. It's really designed to be interactive. We have prompts and questions built in throughout stories and that practitioners can use. So as you mentioned, I think check in with the child about what they think about what they're hearing and learning, how they're feeling about it. And especially early on in the process, some kids may not feel comfortable yet talking about their own feelings and experiences, but they may be able to talk about and reflect on the feelings and experiences of the care characters in the story that may be more possible for them at that time.
But really, and as you've mentioned the materials can be a reference for kids. We do know that when folks are traumatized, it does affect their memory and their ability to retain information or even to understand what's being explained to them. So, I think you've both made really nice points about that. And we also have integrated the coping skills throughout as kind of breaks as you're working through the materials with a child. So, we do recommend that practitioners sit down and actually read through it with a child and that you can use the coping skills as times to take a break. We don't have to read through the whole thing at once. And we do encourage practitioners to actually do the coping skills with the child. These are things that we all benefit from learning and practicing. And it's also a great modeling for the child in terms of utilizing those skills themselves. So, I think we're coming to the end of our conversation today. I'm just wondering if either of you as any last remarks or any messages you'd like to share or impart to the field.
WISNER: I really am excited about the materials. I'm really glad they're here to be able to share. I think that they are a part of everything that is going on. It's not in any way, I don't think it's a best practice to just hand this out and say, "Okay, now you're ready for court." That's not it at all. I think that this working with your multidisciplinary team, working with your prosecutors, working with the kids, making sure that you give kids an opportunity to express themselves and let them know what are their rights and that you're there for them to protect and to listen on top of all of this on top of the materials on top of the case and the case matters, I think it's important that kids know that people give a damn about them.
And so the materials are not a replacement in any way, but a tool to help us do our jobs better for justice in our community, as well as for the best interest and the health and welfare of these kids. So they'll be able to make it through this tumultuous time and go on to grow up and be good people and healthy people.
FORD: Thank you, Geri. That's very moving. And how about you, Jennifer, anything final that you'd like to share, any messages to impart?
THOMPSON: Yeah, I agree. I think these materials are a great tool. I was very excited to hear about the project and even more excited when I saw the books themselves. And I think that they can really be helpful in letting our child victims feel like they have more involvement in the process, knowing just having information is empowering in itself. So, I think that supplementing what we already do with these books is something that can only enhance how we provide trauma-informed services to our child victims.
And then it's also not only a good way to conversations with children about the process, what they're feeling, what they're experiencing, what they're afraid of, but then also amongst ourselves to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to support child victims and making necessary changes in evaluating our processes to make sure that we are doing our best to make sure that we're not re-traumatizing kids, that we are making sure that they feel important throughout this process, that they don't feel like they're lost in the process and for their parents as well. So, I highly recommend them to all practitioners in the field and I'm excited to get some hard copies so that we can start using them even more.
FORD: Thank you, Jennifer. That's a great segue to a reminder again, about how to access the material, which is through OVC's website, it's ovc.ojp.gov\childvictimsandwitnessessupport, and you can access the materials there for printing hard copies or for viewing on screen. There are instructions there for how to professionally print hard copies for your organization, but you can also print them very easily on an office printer. So, I want to thank sincerely again, my two guests for this conversation today, it's been really enjoyable visiting with you and having this conversation. And I appreciate you both so much for the work that you do with children and families.
WISNER: Me too, thank you.
THOMPSON: Thank you again, Kathryn. Thank you for the invitation and it was nice meeting you Geri, and I hope that you continue to do what you do for the best of our children.
WISNER: And likewise, thank you.
FORD: Thank you both so much.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
FORD: Thank you for joining us today. This has been a podcast about the child witness materials project at the Center for Court Innovation. For more information, please go to our website courtinnovation.org. Thank you.