People say it takes a village to raise a child. At Whangarei District Court, it’s clear that the newly refurbished CCTV room for children and other vulnerable witnesses is everyone’s baby.
‘We’re very proud of that room,’ says Judge Duncan Harvey, who championed the cause to improve the environment for children giving evidence at Whangarei District Court, with significant backing from court staff.
‘Once the decision was made to dedicate a room to refurbish specifically for this purpose, everyone just got busy, with judges and court staff all pitching in.’
A mufti day was held for staff, to raise money for the room. Judges and staff made donations to help furnish the room with games, books, beanbags, art supplies and toys. Staff found more comfortable furniture that
wasn’t already being used, from Auckland District Court and from other rooms at Whangarei District Court.
The local Harvey Norman store donated a television and provided a discount on an Xbox console and interactive game, aimed at getting children up and moving if they have to be at the court for a long time.
A local art therapist donated her time and expertise to advise on appropriate artwork for the room. And an ex-Whangarei student, now at an Auckland advertising firm, created a child-friendly poster.
Court Services Manager Carla Campbell and Victim Advisor Katherine Heta show a similar sense of pride to Judge Harvey as they explain why and how they went about setting up the room.
‘Previously children and vulnerable witnesses had to sit in one of our unused jury rooms, which was a pretty sterile and cold environment.
‘By changing the décor and furniture, we knew we could make it a more comfortable and relaxing environment for children giving evidence at the court,’ says Katherine.
One wall of the room is covered by a large, colourful image, which looks a bit like a giant etch-a-sketch drawing on a glossy white background.
Carla explains. ‘It’s intended to relax the mind. We had to be careful about using specific images or cultural references, because they might carry negative connotations for a victim.’
At the back of the room a brightly coloured poster hangs loosely. ‘Take your time’, ‘tell the truth’, ‘don’t guess or make up answers’, ‘it’s OK to ask for a break’ is the advice set out in speech bubbles on the poster, to remind children of what’s important when giving evidence.
Two computer screens are set up back-to-back in the centre of the room. Katherine explains how the screen on one side is where a child might be waiting to give evidence, with tools such as colouring-in books
and pencils to relax, while the other screen is the ‘business side’, where the child moves when the court is ready for them to give their evidence.
All of these changes are about making the environment as comfortable as possible for victims.
Katherine recalls one case where a mother refused to allow her children to give evidence because she was worried that coming to court would cause them further trauma.
‘After we showed her the new CCTV room she immediately relaxed, and convinced herself it would be OK.’
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