CASS is the name given to the advocacy and support service established by CARI in response to the particular needs of child victims of sexual abuse who are called as witnesses in criminal court. CASS supports the children and their parents, carers or guardians who have to go to court. Currently the court system is designed and set up for adults, and the professionals involved are used to dealing with adult witnesses. Therefore the court process can be a frightening, alienating and traumatic experience for the child. The continued reliance on an adversarial court system means that those few children who are asked to give evidence within a court are placed under enormous pressure, both real and perceived when asked to make a formal statement in the court setting.
At the beginning of 2009 the decision was taken to widen our remit so that we will accept referrals to assist children attending court no matter what the crime. Originally we were specifically set up to cater for children who were giving evidence in sexual abuse cases but once we had established our protocols and standards it was evident that our support could be equally beneficial to all children giving evidence no matter what the criminal case related to.
Our Child Accompanment Support Officer is specially trained to help alleviate as many of the anxieties as possible most especially for the child but equally for the parent or carer so that they can better support the child in their care.
He/She will facilitate them in a pre-trial visit to the court so that the child will get to see the surroundings which acts as a great method of lowering the anxiety for all concerned. Such a visit will often include the video link suite so that the child will learn about the remote room, away from the formal court, where they might be giving evidence from. The use of video links has been a huge step forward in making the judicial system more child friendly. However, it still does not eliminate all the fears and concerns that children have when the burden is placed on their shoulders to provide sufficient evidence so that their abusive parent / relative / teacher / coach or acquaintance can be found guilty.
Throughout the course of a trial and in the post trial period our CASS officer will remain in contact with the child and carers so that they can ask any questions or seek assistance. He/She will also offer them support (and attend if requested) around the time of the sentencing so that the child and carer never feel that they are going through this ordeal alone.
C.A.S.S. is kindly supported by the Commission for Support of the Victims of Crime
Please visit Victims Charter