In situations where pre-trial therapy is deemed in the best interest of the child, professionals concerned should be aware of the possible consequences of allowing it to happen. These may include allegations of coaching. However, counselling does not have to undermine the actual or perceived reliability of that witness's evidence and the following guidelines should be adhered to by Lifecentre staff in order to protect the witness's evidence as much as possible:
1. Prior to therapy beginning, the child's need for such therapy should be clearly recorded.
2. The best interests of the child are the paramount consideration in decisions about the provision of pre-trial therapy. In determining what is in the best interests of the child, due consideration should be given to ascertaining the wishes and feelings of the child, in a manner which is appropriate to the child's age and understanding.
3. When a child's case is to be taken to the police, counselling should not commence until after the video recorded interview is complete. The Home Office and Department of Health's guidance 'Memorandum of Good Practice on Video Recorded Interviews with Child Witnesses for Criminal Proceedings' (1992) states that:
Once the video recorded interview is complete, it should be possible for appropriate counselling and therapy to take place. Therapy has not been encouraged before the video interview is recorded since lawyers have argued that the therapy might affect or taint the child's evidence..
4. Any disclosure of materially new allegations by the witness undergoing therapy, or any material departure from or inconsistency with the original allegations should be reported to the Social Services Department and Police.
5. All Lifecentre staff involved with minors should have a good understanding of how the rules of evidence for witnesses in criminal proceedings may require modification of their counselling techniques.
6. The child should not discuss the evidence which she/he is to give in the criminal proceedings with his/her counsellor, but may receive general support to help them through the process of appearing in court and the emotional consequences
of the abuse. Any detailed recounting of the abuse experiences should not be entered into until after the court case has been heard.
7. It is recognised that some types of therapeutic work are more likely to be seen as prejudicial or to influence a child's memory of events. Lifecentre will not use interpretative psychodynamic psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, psychodrama, regression techniques or group therapy.
8. Constructive therapeutic approaches to be used in the context of pre-trial therapy would include therapy which focuses on improving self-esteem and self-confidence, particularly using cognitive behavioural techniques. Counselling can also constructively focus on the reduction of distress about the impending legal proceedings, as well as the treatment of associated emotional and behavioural disturbance that does not require the rehearsal of abuse events. Counselling should address the impact on the child of the abuse, as well as providing information on abusive and safe relationships.
9. Care should be taken by Lifecentre staff with children, to use short, plain, words, to ask open questions where possible and to avoid convoluted, hypothetical or other leading questions. Counsellors should avoid the use of jargon and take care to use language that will not be perceived, if repeated by a child witness, as evidence of the witness being instructed. The language used should be guided by the child. The use of any materials which suggest or presume that abuse has taken place should be avoided.
10. Careful note-taking of all counselling sessions should be adhered to. They should include details of those persons present and the content and length of the therapy sessions. For practical reasons, it is not expected that verbatim written records will be kept. All material presented to Lifecentre by a child that may be relevant to the issues disputed in the case should be preserved. Sessions will not be video or tape recorded. Appropriate training will be provided for Lifecentre counsellors by the Police in regards note taking, the rules of evidence and how these may be affected by any therapy provided to a child. Counsellors may be called as witnesses themselves in any legal proceedings, and should be prepared for this possibility.
11. Prior to the start of any counselling, the Police and Crown Prosecution Service should be informed about any planned or ongoing therapy with a child who has a court case pending. The advice of the CPS should be sought over each individual case in regards the likely effect of counselling on the evidence of that witness. Whether a child should receive therapy before the criminal trial is not a decision for the Police or the CPS. Such decisions can only be taken by all of the professionals from the agencies responsible for the welfare of the child, in consultation with the carers of the child and the child him or herself.
12. Assessment should be made over each child as to whether they are in a position to benefit from counselling. It should be recognised that some children are so severely traumatised that the provision of, for example, once or twice weekly counselling sessions may be either inadequate for their needs or positively disturbing for them, particularly if their home or alternative care situation has not been fully resolved. With certain children, it may be better to delay long term therapeutic work until a placement is made which brings the child within a safe, containing environment.
There may be some children for whom it will be preferable to delay therapy until after the criminal case has been heard, to avoid undoing or losing the benefits of the therapy.
13. In assessing whether pre-trial therapy is appropriate for a particular child, a balance must be struck between the needs of the child and the resultant impact of any therapy on the criminal proceedings. However, where this balance becomes critical, the best interests of the child are paramount.
14. When Lifecentre receives a request for information or documents, legal advice should be obtained before complying with the request. Usually an application should be made to the court for a witness summons to obtain the material. If the counsellor, having taken appropriate legal advice, believes that the material should not be disclosed, the counsellor may oppose the witness summons application. Because of the recognition that maintaining a child's trust is central to the provision of therapy, it will usually only be appropriate to breach confidentiality in compliance with a court order. Those aspects of the therapy that have no material relevance to criminal proceedings should not have to be disclosed. Confidentiality should not be guaranteed in advance to a child or their family. It is important that an understanding is reached with the child and carers at the outset of therapy, of the circumstances under which material obtained during counselling may be required to be disclosed.
15. Clear lines of communication should be in place with all agencies involved with any particular child. Named contact points should be established in each agency for each child.
These guidelines are adapted from 'Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial: Practice Guidance' produced by the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Department of Health 2001, as well as the ACPC document: 'Child Witnesses in Criminal Prosecution and Pre-Trial Therapy Support'.