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The Nose

Crayons in Court

Posted 10/30/2002

The Nose was doing some research at the City Circuit Court's Family Division when the department's associate administrator, Sue German, handed us a copy of My Day at Court, a cheery children's activity book put out by the state judiciary's Family Services Program. The 27-page booklet functions not only as a way to keep small children who have to be at court occupied (and presumably quiet), but also as a guide, telling them what to expect from their experience with Maryland's justice system. Interspersed with connect-the-dots, maze, and word-find games, bobble-headed cartoon characters guide children through the travails of court proceedings, from who's who to court procedures. Activities include coloring in pictures of improper court behavior, adding bailiff and judge stickers to a courtroom scene, a fill-in-the-blank list of questions the judge might ask you, and an illustrated explanation of how decisions are made in family court.

The booklet is surprisingly informative: It describes the roles of everyone in the courtroom and provides definitions of terms that would test any child's reading skills, like adjudication, disposition, and pendente lite hearing. Even the Nose learned a thing or two from this book. For example, we learned that a master "helps the judge make decisions for families. . . . After the master makes a decision, the judge reads it to make sure it is OK." A judge, on the other hand, is a person "who wears a special robe."

But My Day at Court is not all fun and games. The Why Am I Here? section doesn't offer any cheerful options. "I am here because I have to tell the Judge something. Maybe it's something I saw or heard. Maybe it's something that happened to me," is a particularly disturbing option. And in the Why Families Come to Court portion, a dilapidated teddy bear stands in for an abused child.

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