15 Minutes of Infamy

Care program shields kids, prevents court disruptions
The Business Journal of Portland - March 24, 2006
by Lloyd Woods
Business Journal Web Editor

Cowering in the corner, the 4-year-old watches his mother once again being abused by his father. The youngster's trauma does not end there, as the next day he must accompany his mother to the Multnomah County Courthouse, where she will seek a restraining order against his father.

If this had happened five years ago, the boy would have had to relive the experience as his mother described -- blow by blow -- why she needed a restraining order.

Today, though, thanks primarily to the efforts of two women, the youngster can be spared an overwhelming courthouse experience. Instead, he can stay in a free child-care center established in the courthouse in 2001.

Multnomah CourtCare was created through the work of Robin Selig, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center, and Mary Louise McClintock, an early-childhood specialist, fulfilling a longtime goal of the Multnomah Bar Association.

The program's genesis began about six years earlier, when the MBA's Court Liaison Committee asked Judge Janice Wilson and attorney Gerri Sue Lent to co-chair a task force to explore the need for child care at the courthouse.

In 1997, a study conducted by Portland State University's Department of Sociology for the task force found that an average of 80 children under the age of 13 were in the courthouse every day. Attorneys, judges and courthouse staff said children were being brought to courtrooms, hearing their family members describing disturbing scenes and sometimes disrupting the court process.

Meanwhile, Selig, who represents many low-income clients who are victims of domestic violence and saw far too many children appearing in court proceedings with them because they could not afford child care, was one of the attorneys with concerns.

She brought these concerns to McClintock, a longtime friend, and learned that McClintock was already working with the MBA to find a home for the future CourtCare.

In 1999, the women became co-chairs of the Multnomah CourtCare Advisory Board.

Room 214, a little-used jury room in the courthouse, was set aside for the program by the judges of Multnomah Circuit Court. State child-care licensing staff gave a waiver to allow a child-care facility in the courthouse. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners paid for remodeling the room and budgeted $25,000 a year for CourtCare, as did the Oregon Judicial Department.

CourtCare needed more than $50,000 to operate, so the MBA stepped in with funding for the first few years and then turned to its members for more support.

The response was outstanding, said McClintock, as firms challenged each other to raise money for the new program.

The Multnomah County legal community in 2004 began a fund-raiser, "Jungle Gym in the Jungle Campaign," and in the first year raised $65,000, mostly from law firms.

Last year the campaign raised $91,000.

The goal for this year's campaign, which runs April 24 to May 5, is $100,000, which would allow CourtCare to add a third employee. The 2005-06 budget for the program is $132,000.

With only two employees, McClintock said, child care cannot be offered when one is absent, due to regulatory requirements governing the ratio of caregivers to children.

CourtCare provides care for 80 to 100 children a day -- with no charge for the parents -- with each staying there an average of 75 minutes. ChildCare can take up to six children at a time and accepts children ages 6 months to 5 years.

The program is operated for the county by Volunteers of America Oregon.

Kay Toran, VOA Oregon president, described ChildCare as "Lawyers loving children."

"It's been rewarding on a lot of different levels for me," said Selig. "We've made a difference for kids and families."

lwoods@bizjournals.com | 503-219-3480