Wednesday, August 7, 2002
County’s First Children’s Courthouse Waiting Room to Be Dedicated Tonight
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The first children’s waiting room in a Los Angeles County courthouse is scheduled to be dedicated tonight in Long Beach, providing what court officials said will be a safe place for children to play while their parents conduct their court business.
Children will be able to wait in style in the brightly colored room called Kids’ Place, filled with toys and games, when it officially opens for business tomorrow morning.
For the Child, a nonprofit Long Beach-based organization devoted to helping abused and neglected children, won the Proposition 10 grant that funds the project and will staff Kids’ Place, which can accommodate up to 20 children at a time at no cost to parents.
Children in courthouses around the county are often not allowed to join their parents in the courtroom because of the emotional nature of the proceedings. Instead, they fill the courthouse hallways, usually unsupervised, for hours on end.
When they are allowed in the courtroom, they may be subjected to divorce proceedings and custody battles. In any long court proceeding, young children can lose their patience-and cause disruptions.
“These are kids who live violent lives and have to hear it be described over and over in court,” Beverly Fancher, executive director of For The Child, said.
“Would you do that with your kids?” South District Supervising Judge Gary J. Ferrari asked. “I wouldn’t.”
But some parents cannot afford childcare and have no choice but to bring their children to court with them, forcing judges to bend their rules against having small children in the courtroom. Children are routinely allowed to stay unless a child becomes so disruptive the parents are asked to wait in the hallway until their case is called, Ferrari said.
“It’s boring,” Judge Deborah B. Andrews said. “I’d be terrible to be a little kid sitting out there in the hallway all day.”
Located on the first floor in the former district office of county Supervisor Don Knabe—who agreed to move his local staff to Signal Hill to make way for the waiting room - Kids’ Place has an “international flair” with different parts of the room catering to different age groups, Fancher said.
Toddlers can play in an area designed to be like the African jungle while school age children can relax in a Moroccan double level loft and older children can play videogames on Playstation 2 or use the computer and listening stations surrounded by Mexican motifs.
“It’s awesome,” Andrews said.
Only parents who can show they have legitimate business in the courthouse will be allowed to leave their children at the waiting room, which is open Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. The room closes during the court’s lunch hour.
The project is funded by a grant from the Los Angeles County Children and Families First - Prop. 10 Commission.
Proposition 10, an initiative that levies a tax increase on cigarettes and tobacco products, will provide $300,000 each year over the next three years to cover the waiting room’s operating costs. In addition to the actual office space, Knabe also donated $50,000 to go along with $30,000 of the grant money to make Knabe’s office more kid-friendly.
The waiting room has also received several donations, including one from the Mark McGwire Foundation For Children which promotes anti-child abuse projects.
In addition to giving children a place to wait, Kids’ Place will provide families with information and referrals to services like parenting and anger management classes, medical care, shelter, or legal aid.
Each child who spends time at the Long Beach waiting room will leave with a brand new book at the end of the visit, as part of the For The Child’s “Book Buddy” program. The organization has a partnership with a local bookstore, The Book Connection, which provides books at a reduced rate. Staff members will also be available to read to children while they wait, Fancher said.
Andrews said the court was “very excited” about the literacy aspect of the program.
Similar children’s waiting rooms are expected to open in the Pomona and Compton courthouses by the end of September and rooms in the Airport, Van Nuys and the downtown Los Angeles Stanley Mosk courthouses are scheduled to open their doors early next year, court officials said.
The Board of Supervisors approved a two-dollar increase in Los Angeles Superior Court civil filing fees beginning July 1 to raise funds for waiting rooms in those courthouses. An additional $1 increase will take effect Jan. 1, 2004 and will pay for waiting rooms in the Torrance and Antelope Valley courthouses.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company