A 2-foot by 2-foot wooden box, about the size of a child’s dollhouse, is the newest tool in the toolbox of Springboard Community Services in Westminster. The box is filled with a judge’s bench, a jury box, and witness stand, and all of the other furniture and accouterments that make up a typical courtroom. A custom-built miniature replica of a courtroom at Carroll County Circuit Court, it has no roof, so users can easily see inside.
“This is an amazing tool,” said Nicole Jackman, Springboard’s director of client services in Carroll County. “Often children who have been victimized have to enter a courtroom and playing with the model allows them to understand who is in the courtroom and where specific people, including themselves, will sit.”
Staff at Springboard Community Services worked to secure the courtroom replica in order to help children who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse feel more comfortable testifying about their abuser.
“Play-scale brings a courtroom down to a child’s size and makes it less threatening,” said Alisa Donovan, Springboard’s victim advocate in the Carroll County’s Child Advocacy and Investigation Center (CCAIC).
The miniature replica of the courtroom was created within three weeks by Josef Soper, a craftsman and founder of Imagination Dollhouses for Children, a nonprofit that builds play-scale replicas of courtrooms for use by child advocacy centers and nonprofits to prepare victims of abuse when testifying in court. Soper provides the miniature courtrooms free of charge.
His work was based on photos taken by Donovan of the Carroll County Circuit Courtroom. In late February 2022, the replica was delivered.
Donovan said the model strengthens a victim advocate’s ability to serve children and is a valuable resource for all Springboard counselors and advocates. While they have not yet used the model, staff plans to use it soon to demonstrate to a 10-year-old what occurred in the courtroom during a specific trial.
“It’s like an attorney telling a story but it’s more effective because it provides visual cues to help process situations,” she said. “When a child is victimized their ability to process words can change.”
Victim advocates work to support victims and witnesses of crime as they process their experiences and return to normal life. Donovan is the only victim advocate in the Carroll County Advocacy and Investigation Center; however, there are other victim advocates in Carroll County at Springboard’s new family support center, at 7 Schoolhouse Ave., in Westminster.
Donovan has a bachelor’s degree in human services from Mount Saint Mary’s University, in addition to training in early childhood education.
Springboard Community Services provides onsite mental health services at Child Advocacy Centers in Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties and has a formal partnership with child advocacy centers in Baltimore County.
“We do a lot of trauma work,” said Chief Executive Officer F.T. Burden.
“We’re constantly looking at ways to minimize the impact on the victim and move them to a place of stability as quickly as we can.”
He said Springboard is the primary provider of services for victims and survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence in Carroll County.
“It’s ingenious this doll-maker is using his skill set to create these tools,” Burden said. “They bring down tension and anxiety levels and give [children] some sense of what to expect … I think it’s really cool and I’m glad the team was forward-thinking in bringing this here.”
Between January and February, 41 children have been served by the child advocacy center, a large number for the span of two months, Jackman said.
“If we can provide one small piece of comfort through this dollhouse which represents childhood innocence … that’s a win for us,” she said.