The Kids’ Court School was established to help educate children about the courtroom process, reduce their anxiety before legal proceedings, and help increase their credibility in court.
Children participate in two one-hour sessions. The first focuses on the pretrial and trial processes, where they learn about courtroom processes and the roles and functions of courtroom participants. During this session, children also learn communication techniques, including the importance of telling the truth and the ability to ask for clarification during questioning.
Shortly before the trial begins, children participate in the second session, which includes learning the concepts of deep breathing and positive self talk to help reduce anxiety while testifying. They also participate in a mock trial, held in the Thomas & Mack Moot Court at the William S. Boyd School of Law.
Children are taught by court educators who are William S. Boyd School of Law students pursuing a law degree or a dual degree in law and a Ph.D. in educational psychology.
Children between 4 and 17 who are scheduled to appear in court in any capacity – as a witness, victim, or youth charged with a crime – are eligible to participate in the Kids’ Court School. Sometimes they are subpoenaed by courts, but don’t have to be to participate. Parents or legal guardians also can bring children to the Kids’ Court School. There is no charge for participation in the Kids’ Court School.
The Kids’ Court School is located at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law, Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic. Metered visitor parking is available on the west side of Maryland Parkway at Harmon Avenue.
Rebecca Nathanson, Ph.D.
The Kids’ Court School was established in 2002 by Rebecca Nathanson, Ph.D., at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law. The program has garnered national recognition as a model for children’s courtroom education. In 2012, it won the Bright Ideas award from Harvard University.
Rebecca Nathanson, Ph.D. is the James Rogers Professor of Education and Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She received her doctoral degree in special education from the University of California, Santa Barbara and trained in the area of children’s testimony as a research fellow at the UCLA School of Medicine. She has merged her training in these areas to develop a research focus that examines the capabilities and limitations of child witnesses with and without disabilities.
Courtroom Effects on Children’s Anxiety and Memory
Drs. Nathanson and Karen Saywitz conducted a study in 2003 showing that children who are questioned about a past event in a small private conference room demonstrate a heart rate between 60 and 120 beats per minute. Children who are questioned in a courtroom, however, demonstrate a heart rate between 60 and 240 beats per minute, indicating a significant increase in stress. This anxiety coupled with limited knowledge of legal processes may lead to incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, testimonies in court.
Dr. Nathanson conducted a study in 2010 showing that the Kids’ Court School significantly reduces children’s anxiety related to participating in the judicial process.
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The mission of the Kids’ Court School is to educate children and youth about the investigative and judicial processes, utilizing a standardized, empirically based curriculum in order to maintain the integrity of the legal process; to conduct ongoing research aimed at maximizing the capabilities of child witnesses; to minimize the potentially traumatic effects of the courtroom on children; and to serve as a training program regarding best practices for educating children and youth about the judicial process.