The courthouse can be a dark place. Home to domestic violence disputes, custody battles, homicide charges and everything in between, it is appropriate to say that, at times, the courtroom is no place for a child.
In the late 1990s, Jan Weiland, who was serving on the board for domestic violence prevention organization TESSA, found herself asking, “What happens to children when parents go to court?” It turned out that children often accompanied their parents, even to domestic violence trials. This sobering fact led her to found Court Care of the Pikes Peak Region in 2003. Court Care, which offers free, licensed child care to families attending court in the 4th Judicial District, removes children from potentially tumultuous and traumatic situations and provides them with a snack, a book and, most importantly, a safe place to decompress.
“It is the only happy place in the courthouse,” says Weiland, who prides herself on providing a safe space for children ages 6 months to 14 years. The service separates children into two rooms — one for ages 6 months to 2.5 years and another for ages 2.5 to 14 years.
Weiland emphasizes the importance of insulating and protecting children as she draws on a traumatic event from her time in the courtroom when she worked with TESSA. She recalls a young child asking why her mother’s hands were restrained behind her back. “The child was about 4 years old,” Weiland says, “and she was very confused. She kept saying, ‘Daddy, what’s wrong with mommy’s hands?’”
This moment stuck with Weiland and served as a major driving force to create Court Care. “Witnessing the judge ‘pick a side’ of one parent or give more credibility to one parent’s testimony can cause psychological stress and misunderstanding ... of what is going on” she says.
Since its inception, Weiland’s program has provided a haven for about 5,500 children annually, with 50 percent becoming repeat visitors. Weiland and Executive Director Beth Byer estimate they have protected about 67,000 children from the harsh and oftentimes traumatic proceedings of the courtroom. “The safety and security Court Care provides to each child is extremely significant, especially in helping that child become more resilient after familial trauma,” says Byer.
Court Care receives much of its funding from state grants and private foundations, but ultimately it will be very difficult to meet demand once the court system ramps up again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those involved with Court Care say they are extremely grateful for any and all funding they receive, especially, they acknowledge, because they are a little-known organization.
And there are ways to contribute beyond handing over money. Weiland and Byer emphasize the constant need for book donations because each child is sent home with the book of their choosing. The nonprofit emphasizes that reading can be an important form of catharsis for children experiencing trauma and have seen firsthand the positive impact of their reading program.
Court Care is one of only two programs of its kind in Colorado. Located in the county courthouse, the facility is operational every day the 4th Judicial District is open.