Child care center opens in East County Courthouse

Commissioner McKeel, District 4, stands with the ribbon-cutter, Rose Kott, 7, and her mother Bonnie Richardson in the new court care room. Richardson is the president of the Multnomah Bar Foundation.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon the child care center at Multnomah County’s East County Courthouse in Gresham was officially commemorated and opened.

A few dozen people gathered around as Rose Kott, the daughter of one of the lawyers that made the initiative possible, cut the ribbon in the front lobby of the building.

Among the supporters in the crowd was Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel, who represents District 4 in east county.

“It’s something that to us is critically important for the equity and justice that we serve our constituents,” she said. For the parents and guardians who will use the center, she believes that “it will have a huge impact because some of them don’t have any other choice when they come to court. So to be able to bring their children and then leave them in the court care facility it’s a big step for them. They’ll be able to do their business and feel comfortable about having their children here.”

The courthouse opened in 2012 without a child care center. It wasn’t until after Multnomah Bar Association members joined their resources that the center became a reality.

“This was a community effort,” said the county’s Presiding Court Judge Nan Waller. “Things like this don’t happen unless a lot of people are behind it. The lawyers that belong to the MBA donated tremendous amounts of money and that’s what’s able to keep child care available because as lawyers, they recognize that the courtroom is not a place for children. They understand the importance of this childcare center to the community and the parents.”

The center is tucked to the left and down a short hallway from the building’s lobby. It’s quaint and could be mistaken for a typical kindergarten classroom. Books and craft materials line the walls with a variety of seating areas for kids.

The center has been open to families since April 13.  The number of families served was slowly phased in to test the facility before the grand opening in June. The center is expected to have a huge impact on families that wouldn’t otherwise be able to have childcare during court hearings. Many are optimistic about how more families will take advantage of the center as more family court cases are held at the site.

And it won’t just be a place for children to spend their idle time. Instead, it’s been approved for being age appropriate and the staff are expected to use best developmental practices when supervising.

Natalie Strickland is the site coordinator for the center and is the only staff member so far. As more families start to use the center, more staff will be brought on.

Strickland says the main objective of the room is to allow kids to “have a stress free, all about them, good time while the parent does what they have to do…”

For 7 year old Rose Kott, who was able to run a crash course of the room, her favorite part is the arts and crafts.

Many are confident that the kids to come will also be able to find fun and comfort in the room, especially since court-involvement can be difficult for families anyway. “It’s all about the children,” Strickland says.

Presiding Judge Nan Waller and Commissioner McKeel held the ribbon for Rose Kott, 7, to cut. Considering the court care’s future clientele, it only seemed right to have the child of a supporter do the honors.