Boyd's Kids' Court School Wins Bright Idea Award

Thu, 10/11/2012

Kids'CourtRebeccaNathansonFor children with no understanding of court, providing testimony can be scary and challenging for everyone involved.

That’s why the William S. Boyd School of Law provides a Kids’ Court School - which recently garnered a Bright Idea award from Harvard University - to help those about to experience the legal system for the first time understand what is happening.

“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, James E. Rogers Professor of Education and Law at Boyd.

This is the first time the Kids’ Court School, which is run with the help of Boyd School of Law students, has earned the annual Bright Idea award.

“[The Bright Idea award] recognizes programs that can be models for improving government at all different levels,” she said. “It was obviously really exciting for us that [the program] is being recognized.”

In order to gain the award, Nathanson said that the program needed to go through an application process and be considered by the Bright Idea review committee.

Kids'CourtThomas&MackMootCourtThe idea for Kids’ Court School has grown greatly since Nathanson first came up with it a decade ago.

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

“After about 10 years of doing research with non-witnesses, I opened the Kids’ Court School here at Boyd in 2002.”

Nathanson pointed out that, for the most part, the kids who use this program are ones who are going to appear in front of a courtroom. She added that 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, courts sometimes actually subpoena the 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, may be a witness in a family matter, or they may be in a delinquency case,” she said. “As of today, we’ve seen 728 [kids since 2002].”

Putting children, who are between 4 and 17 years old, through this program has had a positive affect on testimony, she said.

“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.

To see other 2012 Bright Ideas recognized by Harvard University, click here.