Purpose: Empirical research regarding potential risks and benefits of children's participation in the legal system generally, and in the child dependency legal system in particular, is sparse and mostly characterized by small studies without comparison groups. The current study was designed to address the following questions regarding children's participation in dependency court hearings: (1) Is attending court harmful to children? (2) Is attending court beneficial to children? (3) Is judicial behavior with the child in the courtroom related to potential harms or benefits? and (4) Are there age differences in children's reactions? Method: The authors measured children's reactions to attending dependency review hearings (n= 43) and compared them to a sample of children who did not attend their hearings (n= 50). One to 2 weeks following review hearings, both groups of children were interviewed about their reactions to the court process. Results: Children who attended their hearings reported more positive feelings about the dependency process (e.g., trust in judge, perceived fairness, and more comfort with their guardians ad litem and caseworkers). For children who attended, there was no evidence of high distress immediately preceding or following their hearings. Court observations revealed that more active engagement by judges was related to positive responses from the children. Most children, including both children who attended hearings and those who did not, believed that all children should be able to attend their hearings. Conclusion: Overall, the findings suggest that policies encouraging children's attendance at dependency hearings are viewed positively by and not harmful to children.
- Children's participation
- Foster care
- Procedural justice
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health