Child Witness Service Review
As part of the wider review of Victoria’s victim’s services, the CIJ was commissioned by the Department of Justice and Community Safety to conduct a separate review of the Child Witness Service (CWS) in 2019.
Established in 2007 on the recommendation of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, this specialist, state-wide service provides emotional and practical support for child witnesses in criminal proceedings. Operating independently of the courts and prosecutions, the CWS uses a case-management model to guide children, young people and their families through the criminal justice system and to help reduce the traumatising effect of giving evidence. This includes engaging with the young person and their family before the trial to familiarise them with the environment, processes and professionals involved. The service also facilitates the pre-recording of evidence, or the provision of evidence remotely, to minimise the young person’s exposure to court processes.
Our in-depth consultations with CWS staff, key stakeholders in the criminal justice sector and the young people and their families who have used the service, provided a clear picture of a highly regarded, committed service. We found strong evidence that the service plays a valued role in giving young people a voice in proceedings often experienced as intimidating and disempowering. Discussions with similar services in Australia and overseas, led us to conclude that the CWS model incorporates some of the best components of child witness services elsewhere.
The review also brought to light challenges faced by the service to continue to provide a specialised service, and the changes needed to ensure the CWS is best equipped to respond to contemporary expectations and future demand. As a result, the CIJ proposed a program of change to build progressively on the many strengths of the CWS. The proposed program of reform, spanning over five to six years, is designed to increase service capacity, capability and reach so that the CWS can continue to grow and evolve as an integral part of a strengthened victim support sector.