Supporting Children In U.S. Legal Proceedings: Descriptive And Attitudinal Data From A National Survey Of Victim/Witness Assistants.

We conducted a national survey of 786 victim/witness assistants (VWAs) to provide descriptive and attitudinal information about support person use in U.S. legal proceedings involving children. VWAs (N = 414) from 46 states returned completed surveys (response rate = 53%). Prosecutor-based VWAs or parents/guardians most frequently served as support persons. One support person was almost always or often used with child victims and/or witnesses of all ages. Support persons were extremely common in cases involving child sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and adult domestic violence. Overall, support persons provided more informational than emotional support. The most common informational support was to provide referrals to community resources, conduct courtroom visit/orientation, and disseminate relevant procedural information. The most common emotional support was to accompany the child to trial. Support persons rarely or never questioned children directly during investigative interviews or in court. Respondents believed support persons decrease children's stress and increase accuracy and credibility; however, this effect varied as a function of who provided support, child age, case type, and type of emotional or informational support. Respondents believed that support person presence at trial probably does not prejudice jurors against defendants. These survey data provide a benchmark for legal professionals and a foundation for future social scientific research examining the effects of support person use on children. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)