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Kids' Court Wins Bright Idea Award

Boyd law school program helps young witnesses understand the court processes.
Business & Community  |  Nov 7, 2012  |  By UNLV News Center
(Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

For children with no understanding of court, providing testimony can be scary and challenging.

The Kids' Court School, a program at the William S. Boyd School of Law, helps those about to experience the legal system for the first time understand what is happening. The program, which is run with the help of law students, recently garnered a Bright Idea award from Harvard University.

"The goal of the Kids' Court School is two-fold. One is to educate the kids about the court process because we know that kids know very little about the court system, and the second is to teach them techniques to reduce their anxiety typically associated with their participation in the court process," said Rebecca Nathanson, the James E. Rogers Professor of Education and Law at Boyd.

The annual Bright Idea award recognizes programs that can be models for improving government at all different levels.

The idea for Kids' Court School has grown greatly since Nathanson first came up with it. She opened the program at Boyd in 2002, after a decade of research.

"I started doing research in children's testimony in the mid-1990s to examine the credibility of their testimony, and after years of research determined that children know very little about the legal process," she said. "If we educate them about the process, it could reduce their anxiety and increase the completeness and accuracy of their testimony."

Children are referred to the Kids' Court School from a variety of sources, such as the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the Juvenile District Attorney's Office, the Juvenile Public Defender's Office, and the Department of Family Services, among others. Additionally, the courts sometimes mandate that children to go to the Kids' Court School so that they understand what is happening.

"The kids who come through the program have to go to court for various matters, so they might be called on to be witnesses -- maybe as a witness in a family matter, or they may be in a delinquency case," she said.

Since 2002, the program has helped more than 725 kids between ages 4 and 17.

"Anecdotally, we hear reports consistently from legal professionals that children who go through the Kids' Court School do much better than kids who don't," Nathanson said.

More: Read more about 2012 Bright Ideas recognized by Harvard University.