American Judges Association
Court Review: Volume 40, Issue 1 - Children as Witnesses: What We Hear Them Say May Not Be What They Mean
Date of this Version
Children present a special challenge when they become participants in the legal system. Jean Piaget said that the work of a child is to play. That is the basis for most interactions between children and adults. The child plays and the consequences of that play are unimportant to adult affairs—that is, unless the child is under the age of 6 or 7 and is required to serve as a witness. In that situation the consequences of what the child says or chooses not to say can be truly significant. The special challenge for adults hearing the child’s testimony is to accurately infer what the child means from the words that are used. Entertaining the possibility that the child could intend to convey a meaning different from—and even opposite to—what a legally trained listener would mean using the same words is crucial to maximizing the value of the child’s testimony.
Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 40:1 (2003), pp. 4-5. Copyright © 2003 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/htdocs/publications.htm.