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Courtroom Modifications Addressed for Child Victims

The signing of SB 70 was the end of a journey that began in 2021. Tifanie Petro, Advocacy and Prevention Director for Children’s Home Society and Advisory Board Member for CPCM, began working on legislative language to create trauma-informed courtroom experiences for children as a part of the Child and Adult Advocacy Studies certificate, offered through USD School of Health Sciences in partnership with CPCM.

“I knew from my professional experience that there was an opportunity to create a courtroom experience that acknowledges the trauma children have faced,” said Petro. “My studies with the CAASt certificate provided the motivation to begin the legislative process.”

The bill was reworked following last year’s legislative session, with input from multi-disciplinary team members. CPCM Board Chair, Senator Tim Reed reintroduced the updated legislation this session, focused on courtroom modifications.

The legislation provides modifications for children testifying in court about child maltreatment. Modifications allowed include: address and question the child in an age-appropriate manner, to ensure the child is free of harassing tactics, to have a person who contributes to the well-being of the child in close proximity, provide sufficient breaks for comfort of child, have a therapeutic dog present, and appoint standby counsel for the defendant if the child will suffer emotional distress that could impair their ability to communicate if the defendant questions the child directly.

SB 70 was signed by Governor Kristi Noem on March 27 and children who are already living with traumatic experiences, will now have less harm imparted on them by the courtroom experience.

“We are thrilled at the support of this bill, which intervenes to lessen harm on children,” said CPCM Director, Carrie Sanderson. “This is one example of the work we can do to protect South Dakota children through collaboration.”

Supporters of Senate Bill 70 attend the signing of the bill by Governor Noem.

Included photo: Pictured left to right: Senator Jessica Castleberry, Senator Tim Reed, Tifanie Petro (Children’s Home Society), Carrie Sanderson (CPCM), Lara Roetzel (SD Network Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault), Representative Becky Drury, Representative Mary Fitzgerald, and Michelle Lavallee (Children’s Home Society).