One-of-a-kind program helping to comfort North Country children through courtroom process

ABC50 NOW

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — If you’re from the Watertown area, you might recognize what the Lego creation in the video above resembles: It’s the Jefferson County Court Complex.

This to-scale piece was created by Lego Master Eric Hunter for the Victim’s Assistance center of Jefferson County. It features exact placement of the witness stand, jury seats and even where light switches are. 

But this creation is not just to look at, it is helping children across the North Country prepare for court hearings; a part of the VAC’s comprehensive program designed to ease the stress of the process for children and parents.

“I think it helps kids prepare better when they see a structure like this, because if you ever go into our County courtroom, it’s a very large room, has a lot of old structures,” stated VAC Director of Advocacy Kylie Hilyer. “And it has a lot of official people in uniforms has a lot of people that use a lot of legal terminology and it can be very intimidating. But when you see the exact same thing in Legos, it really brings some humor to it and, and allows the child to feel like they’ve already seen this place.”

The lego court house is only the beginning, Hilyer also designed a coloring book for younger children that is now being used across New York State. 

Hilyer shared that she worked with the District Attorney to develop specific language used in the book and her friend designed the illustrations. Children in the program can color throughout and write down any questions they have throughout the court process.

Another aspect of the program is Amelia, the VAC’s Facility Dog.

According to Hilyer, Amelia works to provide comfort to children.

“So she can actually sit under the witness stand very quietly and she knows not to move, but she brings such an enormous amount of comfort to those children during their testimony that oftentimes they won’t do it without her,” shared Hiyler.

And as Hilyer said when asked, what’s the Center’s biggest success story out of the program. It’s more like successes.

“We’ve had a number of children that are just too afraid to testify: they’re worried about cross examination; they’re worried about seeing the alleged offender in the courtroom; the parents are worried about what kind of toll it would take on the children,” expressed Hilyer. “So after we show them the Legos and we show them the coloring book, and then we have them meet Amelia, and maybe we give them a tour of the courtroom, I think probably seeing them smile is probably most important.”

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