You’ve heard of a baby shower or a bride and groom.
But how about a shower for a bedroom?
Victim assistance is hosting a shower to outfit a new children’s room at Summit County Domestic Relations Court. The room will provide children with a place to go while their parent or guardian is in court seeking a civil protection order out of fear for their safety.
The agency has a wishlist on Amazon with a long list of items. It includes a few larger items like a bookcase, mini-fridge, and play area, plus plenty of cheaper supplies like dry-erase markers, baby wipes, board games, and snacks.
“The room is bare,” said Leanne Graham, president and CEO of Victim Assistance, as she stood in the nearly empty new room one recent afternoon. “We don’t have funding for necessary items for children.”
Graham said people who come to court seeking a protective order may find themselves in an unstable situation and may not have supplies like diapers with them.
“We want to be as prepared as possible,” she said.
The new children’s room is part of a joint effort by Victim Services and the Family Relations Court to improve services for those who need help because of domestic abuse. Other changes include the hiring of a part-time magistrate to help process applications for protective orders and the addition of three full-time attorneys and one part-time attorney. The lawyer, a victim assistance employee, will provide legal advice to people seeking protective orders.
“It’s us all working together collaboratively,” said Katarina Cook, the national court’s administrative judge. “Everyone does their part.”
New efforts supported by city and federal grants
The joint effort was aided by grants from the City of Akron’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The changes come at the right time, with summer being the time of year when requests for civil protection orders are highest. In June and July last year, the National Court received a near record number of applications for more than 100 civil protection orders in the two months. The court also received this number of requests last month.
Civil protection orders involve disputes between people related to the family, such as being related, married or having children together. People who are dating can also apply for protection orders, although these are not requested as often as civil protection orders.
The process of obtaining an order has two stages in which a temporary order is made and then – after both parties have had a chance to be heard – a final order can be put in place.
About half of Summit County residents seeking civil protection orders have children. When they come to court, they may not have anyone to take care of the children.
In 2021, for example, 1,040 people applied for civil protection orders and 523 of them had children, according to court statistics.
How the idea of a child’s room evolved
Seven children recently huddled around the fish tank in the third floor waiting area of Summit County Family Relations Court while their mother was in a legal proceeding.
Oh no, Cook thought when he saw them. “That can’t happen.”
After:Court tech upgrades are here to stay, officials say
Cook and other court officials have been looking for a better place for the children to wait while their parents are in court. They considered blocking off an area of the waiting room, but since the space is open on the fourth floor, they thought that option might get noisy.
Cook and his staff, who were working on clearing the grounds, focused on a nearly empty room. The judge estimated that the space, roughly the same size as a conference room, would be large enough for several children and victim advocates.
It will be a children’s room and an empty office next to it will house a new reception desk.
Volunteers recently painted both rooms during United Way’s Day of Action.
The children’s room, painted light blue, is currently empty apart from a full-time desk where a lawyer and an intern will sit and a small children’s desk with two chairs.
Graham hopes the area will soon be filled with items that people buy from Amazon’s Wish List or drop off at the downtown Akron victim assistance office. She would like to have the admissions office and children’s room operational by September 1 or sooner.
Until then, those seeking a protective order will need to continue to visit the Court Administrator’s office on the second floor. A clerk will then see if a victims’ lawyer is available.
How the new process will work
When the new rooms are complete, people will go to the reception desk located in room 327 on the third floor, right next to the elevators.
If they have children, young people will be able to go next door in the children’s room while their parents are in court.
The process of obtaining a protection order can take one to three hours, depending on several factors, including how busy the court is.
The children’s room will be available for a maximum of six children at a time, aged between six months and 18 years old. It will be open to all children whose parents or guardians are in national court who need a place to wait, including those who have custody or divorce cases.
Graham said advocates would look after the children and provide them with fun activities, but would not change diapers, take bathroom trips or administer medication.
After:New court program aims to help parents with substance abuse and mental health issues
Cook said advocates can interrupt hearings if children need help, such as being taken to the bathroom.
Before their children go to the children’s room, Graham said lawyers will check what they have told their children about why they are in court, how to help their children when they are under stress and if lawyers are allowed to talk to children about what they are going through.
Stella-Ruby Karcher, who will oversee the children’s room, said the new space would be a useful addition.
She said the dedicated space will give advocates the opportunity to focus on helping children.
“They feel the same trauma as the parent or guardian,” she said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at [email protected], 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.
How to get help
Assistance to victims: Call 330-376-0040 (24 hour helpline) or visit https://victimassistanceprogram.org/.
Summit County Family Relations Court: Call Court Administrator Tom McLaughlin at 330-643-2082 or visit https://drcourt.org/wp/.
Shelter for battered women: Call 330-374-1111 or visit https://hopeandhealingresources.org/battered-womens-shelter/.