By Dave Smith
You don’t expect it, but circumstances can change and life can get out of hand. People may spiral swiftly downward until their issues require a visit to the county courthouse. It can be an imposing place for stouthearted adults and much more so for children.
During court sessions, things are said, situations shared and facts forwarded, few of which are fit for youngsters’ ears. The well-being of children is a valid concern for a parent. How can he/she be certain the children are safe, secure and protected from exposure to this environment? Thankfully, there is a positive solution.
Court Care for the Pikes Peak Region, located in the Terry R. Harris Judicial Complex, provides licensed childcare free for anyone with business there. It offers children 2½-14 years old a fun, educational and safe alternative to a courtroom.
“It was great, mostly it was such a relief to know they were there so you don’t have to choose between taking care of the issue or your kids,” said Sue Johnson (not her real name). Johnson, a single mother of four, thought only people who were in trouble visited the courts, but when her own situation changed — dealing with an abusive relationship — so did her opinion.
“Court Care was really a lifesaver for me,” Johnson said. “It keeps children safe while you are taking care of things. I’ve always been thankful for it. Childhood should be a time of fun, not memories of the courthouse. And it’s not just for low-income people who are in trouble. Ultimately it is for the protection of children; what’s more important than that?”
Not much if you ask Jan Weiland, co-founder of Court Cares. About 15 years ago she served on another nonprofit board when she visited the site during the day instead of evening when the board met.
“There were so many small children around,” Weiland recalled. “I asked what do they do with them when they go to court? They took them along.”
That led to Court Cares. She discovered a committee had looked into the issue, but it was deemed too difficult to solve and the group disbanded. Weiland obtained the committee’s files, contacted everyone involved and started hosting meetings. During that time she met former El Paso County Administrator Terry Harris. Plans for the new courts facility were in the works and Harris agreed a program like Court Care should have a place.
“But it was going to be years down the road,” Weiland said.
Temporary space was procured at 309 N. Cascade Ave., where Court Care offered services for nine years. Denver had a similar program, but Weiland knew funding would not be so easy here.
The Colorado Supreme Court mandated district courts provide a place for children, and most had small spaces or separate rooms, usually unsupervised. Weiland knew that didn’t meet the need.
“This county really stepped up to the plate,” She said. “Ours is the only county in the state that has this kind of care.”
Meetings such as supervised exchanges of children between parents once took place in courtrooms, but no longer. They happen in Court Care.
Services include for those serving on jury duty. Amanda Kennedy was one such person who found Court Care a real help.
“I lived about 40 miles away, so I was unable to find childcare for my kiddo,” Kennedy said. “They had everything to make a mom confident. The kids were confident, too.”
Weiland said Court Care also benefits the courts by making the program a value on both ends of the process.
“Children should never be forced to deal with adult problems. Imagine children listening to their parents’ divorce case or listening to a parent describe abuse. The emotional trauma and stress on that child is immeasurable,” said Jennifer Viehman, senior deputy district attorney-Special Victims Unit. “Court Care provides a safe and welcoming environment that allows kids to be kids.”
Court Care has served about 42,000 children for nearly 3,000 families. Roughly 70 children a week come through the doors. Five teachers, four full-time and one part-time, from Early Connections Learning Centers handle day-to-day care.
“It is set up like traditional child care center,” said Peggy Scroggins, center director since it opened.
Hours are from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday while court is in session. Only the adult signing the child in can make the pickup, without exception.
Give! is an annual year-end philanthropic initiative created to encourage everyone in the Pikes Peak region to get involved with local nonprofits, with a particular emphasis on catalyzing philanthropy from those 36 years old and younger. Over the past five years, Give! has channeled $3.4 million directly to 113 local nonprofits while giving them access to matching grants, media exposure and dozens of hands-on training opportunities from local and regional experts. It is a project of the Colorado Springs Independent alternative newsweekly and is conducted under the fiscal sponsorship of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation. For more information on the Court Care, go to www.CourtCare.org. To donate via the Give! campaign,