Videoconferencing in the courtroom

    Allegheny County has added videoconferencing equipment to some of its courtrooms. The technology will be used in many ways, but family court officials say it could help children forced to testify in child neglect and abuse cases.

    Allegheny County has added videoconferencing equipment to some of its courtrooms. The technology will be used in many ways, but family court officials say it could help children forced to testify in child neglect and abuse cases.

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    The pilot program is just a few months old, but Judge Kim Berkeley Clark says videoconferencing is now an alternative for young children, who normally have to take the stand and face a parent or accused sex offender.

    Clark: They feel a lot of pressure when they are sitting right in the courtroom, in a small space looking at the person who has abused them, while they are testifying about what happened. So it would reduce the trauma of those children.

    In neglect and abuse hearings, videoconferencing could keep kids and parents apart. Judge Clark says she’s hoping the technology will also bring families together. When a child with serious mental health problems is getting care at a far-away residential facility, sometimes parents can’t travel to participate in counseling.

    Clark: They could come to this building and sit in a room and do family therapy or have a visit with their child, where they could see their child, as opposed to just talking to them over the telephone.

    Judge Clark says using the video equipment requires a hearing, where attorneys for all parties can argue for — or against — using the technology. Lawmakers in Harrisburg are monitoring the Western Pennsylvania program to see if it should be duplicated in other parts of the state.

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