The Department of Justice and Regulation’s Child Witness Service has marked a decade of providing support to young people who have been victims of or witnesses to violent crimes.
More than 6000 children, families and caregivers have received support from the service since it was founded in 2007 in response to a Victorian Law Reform Commission report on sexual offences.
The commission’s report found that children and people living with a disability were vulnerable to being re-traumatised through the criminal justice process. The Child Witness Service was subsequently created to help prepare children for the role of being a witness and to make them feel safe to participate.
Staff help to facilitate communication between children, police, the court and their legal team at all points of the criminal justice process. They are available to witnesses under the age of 18 appearing in criminal proceedings that involve violent crime.
About 80 per cent of these cases involve a sexual offence, with 70 per cent listed in the County Court, 21 per cent in the Magistrates’ Court and nine per cent in the Children’s Court.
Each year, staff manage 500 new referrals and deal with more than 1,000 open cases. The youngest witness to receive support from the service was only three years old.
Approximately 60 per cent of child witnesses give evidence from remote witness rooms that were purpose-built in the court precinct.
You can find out more about the Child Witness Service (external link) on the Victims of Crime website which hosts an online interactive guide.