Our Court Support 4 Kids program makes coming to court less stressful for mums

Genevieve never thought she would become a "UNO" champion but through her role as Court Support 4 Kids Worker, she has become somewhat of a star at the famous card game.

“The older kids are always up for a game so I have become pretty good at it!”

Genevieve’s day begins at 9am at Sunshine Magistrates Court, where she attends the court service’s daily meeting before collecting her bucket of toys and heading out to the waiting room in search of kids.

“One day is never the same as the next. I meet different children every day, needing various levels of support and engagement depending on their age, interests, abilities, mood, anxiety and stress level.”

Genevieve (pictured below) introduces herself to all the families with children at court that day and offers games and activities. “It’s a way to identify what level of support each family and child will need.”

“I revisit and engage those needing the most support, building rapport with both mother and child, gauging the child’s interests and finding activities that are most appropriate. Sometimes it will be necessary to stay with one family and support them through their entire time at court, other families don’t need as much support so I will check in with them from time to time.”

After what is often a long wait, the women must go inside the courtroom to have their matters heard before the magistrate. “The court processes and procedures can be very time consuming, often women are waiting many hours to go into court. This makes me wonder how things could be improved to make the process easier and quicker for women in these circumstances.”

The support Genevieve provides at this stage looks different in every case. The most common scenario usually involves sitting and playing with the child outside the courtroom while the mother goes in. Sometimes children are unable to be separated from their mother due to a high level of separation anxiety and this is where Genevieve must often play an advocacy role.

“Where possible I will sit with the child inside the courtroom – it is where the i-pad and head phones come in handy to keep the child’s attention on positive experiences rather than the court proceedings.

“If however, the child is older and cannot be distracted by games and activities, or the mother herself is highly anxious, I will advocate to police and appropriate court staff that she would be best represented by a police or civil advocate.”

She is saddened by seeing kids separated from their parents. “Sometimes the children want to sit with their dad and because of the intervention order it is necessary for them to be apart. It can be very distressing having to explain to children why they cannot be with their fathers.”

Genevieve recalls working with a mother and her son, both of whom were highly anxious. The little boy was very withdrawn and initially would not engage with Genevieve but through a slow and considered process of colouring in together and a lot of discussion about dinosaurs, he was gradually comfortable enough to stay with Genevieve while his mother went into court to file for an interim intervention order. After court proceedings she was able to help the mother with referrals for counselling and support services.

“I saw Paul and his Mum when they returned at a later date for the final order, which they obtained uncontested. Paul’s mother noted how much safer she felt having the interim order in place and how much better Paul was doing now that he has a more stable home life.”

Genevieve focuses on making the child’s experience of court a fun and positive one. She is inspired by giving children the best chance to live a safe and happy life but is frustrated that after building a relationship with a family there is no opportunity to follow up with them in the future to see how they are going.

“As the best case scenario is that there will not be a need for them to be back at court, I try to take not seeing them again as a good thing!”

Read more about our Court Support 4 Kids program and other work that focuses on the needs of children.