Harsh words, confrontations, possibly even seeing parents in handcuffs — these are traumatic experiences for young children who have to tag along when family members are involved in court actions.
Or, they may find things so boring, that crawling under tables or creating a fuss becomes an irresistible urge. Children find it impossible to sit quietly in the courtroom.
But when parents can’t afford childcare, these disruptions become the norm. It’s a situation that has long been a source of frustration for judges, attorneys, parents and everyone involved. Now, thanks to the support of many donors in the legal community, there is a solution that is serving the children, their parents, and the courts alike. In December 2001, a collaborative project between the Multnomah Bar Association, the Volunteers of America Oregon, and Multnomah County resulted in “CourtCare”, a compassionate way to protect young children from unpleasant courtroom situations.
A former jury room was converted into a cozy drop-in child-care center –a free service that is growing in popularity and deserving of on-going support.
Volunteers of America Oregon staff care for up to six children at a time — which often includes up to two infants. On average, one hundred children a month come through, with most visits lasting around an hour and a half.
Most often, mothers drop off children while seeking restraining orders against husbands over domestic violence issues. But all parents-whether they’ve come because of custody battles, to be witnesses to trials, to stop court proceedings, or to simply a handle traffic ticket-are grateful to find this nurturing and safe environment for their children.
CourtCare offers games, toys, art materials, stuffed animals, more playthings than most of these children have ever been exposed to before. Each child goes home with a new teddy bear and a positive attitude about the day.
Judges are happy to have fewer disruptions in the courtroom and frequently stop by CourtCare just to say “thanks”. The continued support from the legal community has been key to the project’s success.