Denver Bar Association
December 2003
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Where Do the Children Go? A warm welcome center

by Joe Dischinger

 
Joe Dischinger

Ever seen a child in the City and County Building? Surveys conducted by the Denver Bar Association before there was a free child care center indicated as many as 500 children per week were accompanying adults to the Denver courthouse. The number of children in the courthouse is smaller now, since the Denver Warm Welcome Court Child Care Center opened in 1999. Since the Center opened, it has served over 8,000 children. Even so, there are times when children are still in courtrooms and hallways, and the child care center is not full.

The DBA’s Court Child Care Task Force identified three separate problems caused by children in courthouses, based on observation, surveys and research from around the country. First and foremost, children in courthouses are exposed to danger and trauma—children in courtrooms may see their parents in stressful or humiliating circumstances. Children in hallways see adults crying or angry, and prisoners in shackles. Second, children often disrupt proceedings. Third, children make it difficult for their parents to focus on the important business they have at court.


Children play outside of the Denver Warm Welcome
Court Child Care Center

In Denver, at least, there is no need for this. The Center, located across Colfax Avenue from the City and County Building, is a state-of-the-art, fully licensed and secure facility, with experienced staff who are specially trained to care for children whose families are in stress. The City contributes the space for the Center, essentially rent-free. Operational costs, including staff salaries, are funded through a one dollar surcharge on municipal ordinance fines. Use of the Center is free to anyone with temporary court business (other than court employees and attorneys), and to anyone who is accompanying a friend or family member to court. Litigants, witnesses, jurors and others may leave their children at the Center while they go to court, or meet with a probation officer, district attorney or public defender.

The Center also provides information to adults who are interested in other governmental or non-profit resources for children and families. And when each child leaves, he or she may take home a book from the Center’s library. Younger children in particularly stressful situations are also given a stuffed animal. (Donations of used children’s books and stuffed animals are always needed and welcome.)

The Center is licensed for up to 20 children at one time—five children between the ages of six weeks and two and-a-half years, and 15 between the ages of two and-a-half and 12 years. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although parents are required to pick up their children over the lunch hour when court recesses. Some children stay all day, but the typical visit is approximately one and a half hours.

This is a wonderful facility and the Denver Bar Association was instrumental in getting it started. If you have not seen it, stop by the next time you go to court. There have been a few times when the Center was filled to capacity and had to turn children away, but most of the time there is room and staff for more children. Please make sure your clients and colleagues know about it and encourage families who need the services of the Center to use it.


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