Girl Scout developed a 'Comfort 4 Kids in Court' program to allay stress


by Tom Kirvan
Legal News

A courtroom, generally speaking, is not a happy place to be, particularly if you are on the wrong side of the law.

It can be especially daunting for children called to testify in criminal and civil cases where the stakes can be as high as the Himalayas – at least as far as the litigants are concerned.

With those trials and tribulations in mind, 15-year-old Isabella Cook went to work last year, developing a program titled “Comfort 4 Kids in Court” as part of her Girl Scout project. For those efforts, Isabella earned the coveted “Gold Award,” the highest honor in Girl Scouting. She also was named the 2021 Young Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan.

“My project . . . addressed the issue of fear and stress in children who have to go to court,” Isabella explained. “As a child, I visited my grandmother, who was a judge, in court, and saw the scared looks on the faces of children. I took action to educate children about the people and places they will encounter in a courthouse by publishing a book called ‘Justice the Court Dog and the Missing Gavel’ (in English and Spanish), and creating a website with supporting materials, such as activity books and a read-aloud video.”

A sophomore at Detroit Country Day High School, Isabella is the granddaughter of Elizabeth Pezzetti, former chief judge of the Oakland County Probate Court before retiring in 2016. Pezzetti’s work on the bench, not surprisingly, helped inspire Isabella to undertake the project, which has rippled across the nation.

“My target audience is children who have to testify in court,” Isabella indicated. “In order to reach these children, I targeted judges, lawyers, guardian ad litems, Friend of the Court referees, and child advocacy centers in all 50 states.

“The outcome of my project was that I was able to distribute 115 books and activity books to my target audience in all 50 states,” she added. “In addition, 71 books were purchased directly through Amazon. I was also successfully able to drive my target audience to my website, leading to 1,009 hits, 115 downloads of my activity book, and 63 views of my video. Further, I received feedback from judges and others across the nation indicating that they were excited to put my resources into action to help children who have to go to court.”

Isabella recognized “how frightened the kids appeared in the courtroom” when she would visit her grandmother at the Oakland County Courthouse each summer, noting that “many of them looked like they could break down in tears at any time.” After observing such anxiety, Isabella partnered with her grandmother and Betty Lowenthal, a retired Friend of the Court referee, on the Gold Award winning project.

“I also partnered with English, Spanish, and Digital Photography teachers as part of my team,” said Isabella. “Finally, I worked with elementary-aged Girl Scouts to make sure that my materials were effective.”

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