Coloring book on trials adapted by Baltimore Co.

December 28, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

The courtroom can be a scary place for children, especially those who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse and must testify against the adult accused of abusing them.

And with the number of child witnesses growing each year -- 30 children testified in Baltimore County courts in 1991 -- there is a growing need to make the courtroom experience easier.

Children "are frightened by the strangeness of thsurroundings," said Sandra A. O'Connor, state's attorney for Baltimore County. "They are frightened by the defendant. They are frightened for their security. They are embarrassed by talking in front of a judge and jury. They are afraid they are going to say something wrong."

To ease children's fears, lessen their anxieties and make them better witnesses, Baltimore County will soon be using a new tool, a 32-page coloring book called "What's My Job in Court?"

It is based on a Canadian coloring book of the same name the Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario developed in 1989. Authorities there say the book has been very successful.

The oversized coloring book goes step-by-step through the judicial system, explaining the roles of the judge, defense and prosecution, and how the child fits into the judicial system.

"Sometimes," begins a paragraph on defense lawyers, "when we're talking in court, the defense lawyer may stand up and interrupt us to talk to the judge. Don't worry. We haven't done or said anything wrong. No one is angry at us. All we have to do is stop talking until the judge or the Crown asks us to go on."

The book's center pages are made of sturdy cardboard. One page is a full-color diagram of the courtroom, the other has color cardboard cut-outs of the judge, lawyers, defendant, witness and jury. Ruth Moyle, coordinator of the victim and witness program in London, Ontario, said children have a lot of fun trying to put the characters in the right slots.

Another popular page is called, "What's wrong with the courtroom." Here, children circle inappropriate courtroom behaviors, such as a lawyer putting his feet on the desk, or a witness falling asleep.

"It's a very, very useful tool," said Susan Lee, who directs the Victim Witness Assistance program for the attorney general's office in Toronto. Because Canadian children watch American television, the coloring book also is used in Canada to explain the differences between the two court systems, Ms. Moyle said.

"Some of the kids ask, 'Where is the hammer?' " she said. "But our judges don't use a gavel. And they always ask for Judge Wapner."

The county state's attorney's office has edited the Canadian book to fit it to the American judicial system. For instance, the "Crown attorney" is changed to "state's attorney," the "accused" becomes the "defendant" and the robes lawyers wear in Canadian courts become suits, Mrs. O'Connor said.

The county plans to spend about $15,000 to print 2,500 copies of the book. The money will come from assets seized from drug dealers, Mrs. O'Connor said. The County Council approved the expenditure during its session last Monday.

The books are expected to be available in February. Scott Shellenberger, a county prosecutor who heads the child sexual abuse unit, said the county will share the book with other Maryland jurisdictions if it is a success.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.