When children, caregivers and case workers arrived to Family Court this week, they were greeted by a complete change in setting. The sterile white walls had been transformed using bright shades of green, while the drab black waiting area chairs were replaced with vibrant blue and orange metal bench seats.
In May of this year, the Junior League of Owensboro announced CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Ohio Valley as one of two local nonprofits that was awarded a $10,000 Community Initiative Grant. CASA used the grant money toward renovating the Family Court waiting room on the third floor of the Morton J. Holbrook Judicial Center. The initial intention was to create a more welcoming and kid-friendly space for the over 700 children ages birth to 18 years old who are involved in substantiated abuse and neglect cases in Daviess County each year.
“CASA is excited to see improvements in the Family Court waiting room,” said CASA Executive Director Rosemary Conder. “Made possible with a grant from the Junior League of Owensboro, the new colorful and comfortable seating, bright cheery walls and art help make the environment more family-friendly.”
Family Court Judge Julie Hawes Gordon said, in abuse and neglect cases, it is best for kids to be involved as much as possible in a healthy way, and that creating a welcoming environment benefits this process.
“They have a right and should have a right to know what goes on in their cases,” Gordon said. “We want to have their presence here — it helps all of us as a system. We want to give them a voice without causing additional anxiety. We’re talking about a kid — a human being — not just a case number.”
According to Gordon, traditional courtroom waiting areas are not the most inviting for families, so “CASA stepped up and made it more family-friendly and safe.”
“One of the things we find when we go to Family Court is that the waiting area is very cramped and cold and uncomfortable and just not kid-friendly,” Conder said. “There are a lot of children that sometimes have to wait for hours to see the judge or have their case heard. It’s another trauma that they are exposed to and we really want to reduce the negative effect of it as much as possible.”
Gordon said Family Court also collaborated with the Daviess County Public Schools art showcase, in order to feature the winning art pieces in the waiting room. The showcase winners, as well as children involved in the court process, were also invited with their families to decorate colorful ceiling tiles that now hang overhead.
“It’s amazing — you can’t tell who the art contest winners and who the kids in court were,” Gordon said. “So many of the kids are very talented — it gives them their own way to personalize the Family Court area.”
Large screen televisions were installed, with one showing children’s movies while the other offers educational information for parents. There is also a charging station for electronics and snacks and drinks are provided.
“We try to make Family Court as collaborative as possible,” Gordon said. “Our goal is not to punish people, it is to build trust and remove barriers. That’s what makes us different from other courts. I hope the inviting atmosphere in the waiting area will be more conducive to everyone working collaboratively.”