Thursday, November 5, 2009

Budget Cuts Kill Valuable Program at Courthouse

As I walked through the lobby at the Orange County Courthouse this afternoon, I spotted a sign that told of another budget cut fatality. A Place for Children, providing a safe place for parents to leave their children while they attend court since June 1998, will shut down in two weeks for lack of funding. Per the Ninth Judicial Circut's website:
Children are routinely brought to the Courthouse because their caregivers have no safe place to leave them while they are required to make court appearances. Often children are left in the halls outside the courtrooms because they become too disruptive in the courtrooms. Further they can be exposed to disturbing and inappropriate proceedings. A Place for Children – a licensed drop-in child care center for children whose families have business with the court – lets children be children, instead of spending long sessions listening to adult interactions that could be painful or frightening for them.
A Place for Children’s goal is to provide on-site, safe, high quality child care for families with official court business while ensuring linkage to available social services. A key component of A Place for Children is that it will serve as a link between much needed social services and the high-risk families who could use these services. It is hoped that linking families with needed services may break the cycle of repeated visits to court and that A Place for Children will provide a vehicle for reaching out to individuals with information about the community services to which they and their families are entitled. A Place for Children can be a touchpoint for a family member in a moment of crisis, making a difference in the life of that individual and their family.
Through referrals to needed services and through information, assistance is provided to children and families well beyond their visit to the Courthouse. During their visit to A Place for Children, parents and guardians, can obtain up to date information on important child development and parenting topics or receive referrals that connect their families to the resources they need for future success. Referrals are given to Neighborhood Centers for Families and other helpful community services such as housing assistance, health care, credit and career counseling, long term child care, and educational programs for children.
There is no fee for this service and a morning and afternoon snack are served. Children up to the age of fourteen can spend four hour blocks of time at the Center. The Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The staff members and volunteers are trained in child development, health, safety, and nutrition, recognizing and preventing child abuse and neglect, and appropriate activities and best practices in working with children. All staff members are certified in CPR and First Aid. Caregivers are given a pager that is internal to the Courthouse when they enroll their children. This enables A Place for Children staff to reach them immediately when needed. Caregivers must complete an enrollment and information form before leaving their children and are given the opportunity to give staff members specific individual instructions for the care of their children. Every caregiver must give an emergency contact for their children. Even when a caregiver is remanded in custody the child is spared the experience of their caregiver’s arrest and detention, and has a safe, caring, comfortable place to play while waiting for their emergency contact to come and take care of them.
What a shame to lose this valuable service to the citizens of Orange County! If you think this service is worth providing, please contact Mayor Crotty and the Board of County Commissioners.

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