Kids' Court helps young witnesses before their day in court

Beth Fisher

Kids' Court helps young witnesses before their day in court

CREATED Jun. 18, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Every day here in Clark County, kids go to court. Sometimes they witness a crime and sometimes they are the victim.  And even if a child wants to tell their story, being in court is upsetting. But Dr. Rebecca Nathanson is easing the trauma. Her Kids' Court is making Las Vegas a better place to live. 

"Order in the court."
Young Braylyn, gavel in hand, is the man in charge in this courtroom.  Welcome to Kids' Court at University of Nevada, Las Vegas' law school.  This is where kids come to learn about the courtroom before they need to appear.
Dr. Rebecca Nathanson is with the schools of education and law at UNLV.  "It's extremely stressful, traumatizing for children and who as a parent would want to put their child in that situation and again, kids need to have a voice in court."
Dr. Nathanson has been doing research on child witnesses for more than 20 years. She believes kids CAN be credible witnesses but helping them feel comfortable on the stand is vital. 
One of her law students talks Braylan through the day in court using toy people and a pretend courtroom. "OK Braylan. Let's talk about some of the people you're going to see in a courtroom. Ok? Do you know who this is? Judge? That's right!"
Dr. Nathanson came up with the idea for Kids' Court and wrote an entire curriculum that walks kids through the courtroom -- who the players are, what their job is and what the kids can expect when it's time for them to appear. Once they learn the basics, they head in to Kids' Court where law and education students act the roles and the kids practice being on the stand and the bench.
"Per-us-suh. what? Prosecution. Your witness."
Dr. Nathanson created Kids' Court 10 years ago. The first year, she helped six kids. To date, she and her students have helped nearly 800.  "A lot of these kids have to go to court and talk about traumatic events. To know that I can't change what happened in the past so perhaps it can change from this point forward for them."
Braylan is not a witness or a victim in a case. We asked him to go through Kids' Court to show us how it works.  But typically, there are a few kids in court at a time so they get to see they aren't the only kid who has to go to court. And that can help calm their nerves too. The program is free for anyone ages 4-18 who has to appear in court.  Just call (702) 895-5933 for more information.