LANCASTER – A local child advocacy agency received grant funds to install “comfort cabinets” to make a child’s time slightly more tolerable.
Harcum House received a $6,000 grant through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to fill the cabinets in the Fairfield County Common Pleas and Municipal courthouses with toys, snacks, tissues and hygiene items, said agency Executive Director Lisa DeGeeter. The cabinets also include “fidgets,” which are small quiet manipulative toys that could be taken on the stand if a child is called to testify to help calm nerves and increase attention.
While DeGeeter said offering these amenities to children awaiting a court appearance or with their parents who is there for probation seems obvious, it hasn’t been done before. There was also never a budget to do so until now.
“There were two cases specifically that prompted us to consider this project,” DeGeeter said in a letter to local officials about the grant. “A few years ago, we worked with a family that was dealing with hunger. We had not realized the extent of their problem until they came to court. Paper and crayons were provided to keep the kids occupied. Advocates left the witness waiting room to check on the proceedings and returned to find the children tearing the paper into strips and eating it because they were hungry.”
The children said they hadn’t eaten in days.
The second incident involved a family of five who lived on a $755 social security check each month and was in court for two days in the fall of 2015.
When the court recessed for lunch, the family had no vehicle and couldn’t afford to go to any nearby restaurants. DeGeeter now plans to request donations from fast food restaurants so judges can provide gift cards to families in similar situations.
“My agency’s primary goal is to reduce trauma to children and families,” DeGeeter continued. “I often explain to people that we cannot change what has happened … but we can work to make sure that children and families have a positive experience, and are informed, comfortable and respected while they work through the various processes and agencies that make up the justice system. We help identify needs, and get those needs met.”
Each toy selected for the cabinet are nonviolent, quiet, disinfectable and developmentally appropriate. The Victims of Crime Act Grant was awarded last year, but it took time to select and purchase the items.
“We have purchased things that are open ended, or short games, so a child doesn’t have a fit halfway through a game of monopoly when they are called to the stand or have to leave,” DeGeeter said. “They should be able to finish any activity in minutes. ”
Rocking chairs for adults and children were also purchased as part of the grant and were placed in witness waiting rooms.
“Rocking chairs, in terms of dealing with trauma, can be really soothing,” DeGeeter said. “There’s a reason we rock babies.”
Judges will have access to each cabinet. There are four locked cabinets in the common pleas courthouse. Two additional cabinets will be installed in the municipal courthouse in the coming weeks.
Originally posted on: http://www.lancastereaglegazette.com/story/news/local/2017/02/10/harcum-house-offers-comfort-cabinets-fairfield-county-children/97657934/