Testifying In Court
Whether you have testified often or never before, it is important to know what to expect going in. To testify in court, a person needs to know how to answer questions properly and how to prepare for the atmosphere of the courtroom.
Juvenile Dependency Court is slightly different from other courts in that there are no juries. In Pennsylvania, either a Judge or a Hearing Master listens to witnesses, considers the evidence presented and makes legal decisions — called Findings and Orders — based on what they hear. Dependency Court hearings can happen in a regular courtroom or in a less formal hearing room. The location of dependency hearings varies between jurisdictions.
What's important to know about dependency hearings is that they are just as serious as any other hearing. Maybe even more so, since they address the safety and well-being of children. As such, witnesses should be prepared to provide information to the court in an open, honest and direct manner.
If you have specific questions regarding testifying in court or are anxious about doing so, there are a number of resources that you might find helpful. Depending upon your role in the proceedings, you can talk to a lawyer or the Guardian ad Litem of the children in question. You can also talk to the caseworker, or Court Appointed Special Advocate, if one has been assigned. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Training Program has put together a guide for caregivers in sexual abuse cases (PDF, 46kb).