A trained dog could be able to accompany child victims of sex abuse when giving evidence in a criminal trial thanks to a new pilot project which would be a first in this country.
Children At Risk in Ireland (CARI) has advertised for the part-time position of Court Accompaniment Officer and Secondary Dog Handler as part of its two-year pilot research project to assess the impact of a facility dog in mitigating trauma for children in the Irish Justice System.
The successful candidate will be responsible for relieving the primary dog handler, who is Court Team Leader, and CARI said the project is the first of its kind in Ireland, within the Irish Judicial System.
While other jurisdictions such as Australia and the United States allow for trained dogs to accompany children when giving evidence, it has not occurred in this country.
The idea behind the project is that the dog, trained at the Cork-based Dogs for the Disabled organisation, would be able to stay in the video link room with the child while they give evidence.
It’s understood the jury would not be able to see the dog, which would be trained to lie on the floor.
Eve Farrelly, CARI executive director, said more details will be available when the training of the dog is completed and all the staff positions are filled.
A primary handler has already been employed and applications for the position of secondary handler will be received up until the end of March.
There is also a research element to the pilot project and Ms Farrelly said: "It is the first time that Ireland will be able to present this type of evidence-based research in this field.
"It really is kind of groundbreaking stuff."
It’s understood that consultations have already been carried out with other interested parties, including the gardaí and the judiciary.
The advertised role of secondary dog handler and court accompaniment officer involves pre-trial preparation, accompaniment at the trial, and then post-trial support.
According to the advertisement for the post, duties will include helping prepare children on a practical and emotional level by explaining the court procedure using age-appropriate language, to attend court with the child and their family for the duration of the trial, recording all phone calls and meetings with clients and update all files, and providing statistics on the service regarding phone call activity and meeting activity.
As for their responsibilities as secondary dog handler, any successful candidate will need to ensure care, grooming, walking and feeding, working with the child and families within the research cohort alongside the dog during criminal proceedings, and ensuring all work with the dog is done within the budget provided.
CARI said it hopes to be able to use the dog in court settings by the end of the year.