HEALTH AND WELFARE

This NGO uses canine therapy to help abused kids brave the courtroom

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Clinical Director of the Teddy Bear Clinic Dr Shaheeda Omar says the courtroom often induces secondary trauma for child abuse victims.

It’s for this reason that the nonprofit organisation runs a unique court preparation programme, which helps children navigate the harshness of the criminal justice system.

One of Teddy Bear Clinic’s court preparation programmes uses dogs to help abused children give evidence in court.

Omar explains that the courtroom can be a daunting situation and is not developed for child victims, who are still processing emotions and trauma.

She says the programme enables children to become competent and credible witnesses and helps alleviate their fears and anxieties.

The initiative also clarifies the court processes and procedures for children to understand.

The K9 Therapy programme uses trained dogs to provide therapy to help children gain confidence to testify in court.

The Teddy Bear Clinic teamed up with the Top Dog organisation for this special initiative in 2015.

Top Dog’s Conor Hughes says dogs can have a calming and therapeutic influence on children.

Dog handlers are given special training to assist with the psychological needs of the children.

Teddy Bear Clinic also advocates for children not to testify in the main courtroom, but under CCTV surveillance.

The child is going to come face to face with the alleged perpetrator, the very person that has inflicted this emotional and psychical trauma on the victim.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
For a child who has been a victim of violation and sexual violence, it’s already confusing. It’s brutalising, it’s traumatising.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
The child is emotionally battered and wounded. They’re totally confused, felling helpless, powerless and out of control.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
Courtrooms are not built or developed for children.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
A child goes into situation where the defence is brought in to discredit their testimony. This often induces secondary trauma and secondary victimisation.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
K9 Therapy is animal-assisted therapy. It has enhanced social relationships, reduced anxiety and depression and has helped people tell their story.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
It creates the feeling of being in control, secure and happy.

— Dr. Shaheeda Omar, Director at the The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children
Court preparation is one of the pillars of support that the Teddy Bear Clinic has offered to abused children and their families since 1997.

Dr Omar discusses the problems that hinder the criminal justice system from adequately helping victims of abuse and Conor Hughes details the impact of canine therapy.

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