In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the recognition and reporting of child physical and sexual abuse. This, coupled with the current 50% divorce rate and the fact that many of these separations involve child custody decisions, has led to an increasing need for children to appear in court.
Custody decisions usually involve family or civil courts; however, allegations involving sexual abuse may require a child to appear as a witness in criminal court. Although the procedures and potential consequences of these legal processes are quite distinct, all situations in which children offer testimony can be quite stressful and merit the awareness and support of pediatricians.
Pediatricians can become involved with children who are to be witnesses at several levels, including: 1) supporting patients in the pediatric office; 2) participating in legal proceedings; and 3) advocating for legal reform.
SUPPORT IN THE PEDIATRIC OFFICE
The pediatrician is an important source of support for the child who is to be a witness, from the initial contact through preparation for court appearance, and after the court proceedings. A pediatrician should attempt to keep the legal process in the child's best interest and should help the child maintain a healthy adaptation to a stressful experience. The pediatrician should also address the psychological impact of the event responsible for the child's court appearance.
When parents plan to separate, pediatricians may help the family by discussing living arrangements and visitation during an office visit. If custody is disputed, which is the case in 10% of divorces, and a child is asked to appear in family court, the pediatrician can provide counseling to help prepare the child for the court appearance.
- Copyright © 1992 by the American Academy of Pediatrics