The Countess of Wessex has seen at first hand the NSPCC's Young Witness Service during a visit to Laganside Courts in Belfast.
The Young Witness Service is unique to Northern Ireland and provides support for hundreds of children and young people under the age of 18 who have to go through the process of giving evidence in court.
More than 2,500 children and young people have used the service in the past four years.
The initiative is funded by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland and is available to young witnesses of all types of crime in every crown, magistrate and youth court.
The event was attended by NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless plus several of the Young Witness Service volunteers and staff who spoke to the Countess of Wessex about their experiences and their work.
Among those who met The Countess was Mary Collen, from Co Armagh who has volunteered with the NSPCC since 1987 and was awarded an MBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours list.
The Countess of Wessex, who is the Royal patron for the charity, was also introduced to Connie, the NSPCC’s court assistance dog.
The three-year-old Black Labrador is the first assistance dog to be used to support young witnesses who have to give evidence in court. So far she has assisted in 13 cases and has been specially trained to be a calming influence on children facing the stress of a court appearance.
Service Manager for Young Witness Service Jenni Boyce said: “We are delighted that HRH the Countess of Wessex has visited the Young Witness Service to see first-hand the brilliant work which our amazing staff and volunteers are contributing.
“Over the years our volunteers have helped thousands of children and their families through what can be a daunting time in their lives. We are so pleased that this visit has shone a light on the vital and important work that the volunteers are carrying out in Belfast and in courts right across Northern Ireland.”
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “This unique service provided by the NSPCC has been of enormous help to thousands of children from who have been witnesses to crime or victims of it.
“The Countess of Wessex’s visit was a wonderful acknowledgement of the work of our dedicated volunteers and staff who have given such vital and practical support to so many children from Northern Ireland.”
As well as Laganside Courts, the Young Witness Service operates at a number of courts throughout Northern Ireland including Lisburn, Newtownards, Downpatrick, Newry, Armagh, Omagh, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Derry, Coleraine, Antrim and Ballymena.