When NCJW volunteer leader Natalie Kaplan, wife of the late Honorable Judge Lawrence Kaplan, voiced her concern about children left in the halls of the courthouse while their caregivers dealt with legal matters, we saw a need. The result was the first Children’s Waiting Room, which opened in 1980.
Since NCJW member Jane Lobl established the first waiting room on the dark and smoky sixth floor of the City-County Building, we have established bright and inviting rooms in the Family Division and Criminal Court facilities. Today, the Children’s Rooms offer free books for every child who uses the facilities, sponsor therapy dog programs, and provide basic clothing and supplies to women and children who come in times of great need. Thanks to the support of Allies for Children, a snack bag filled with healthy foods and treats are available to all children who use the court system.
The Children’s Rooms in the courts serve hundreds of children each month, both from families with court business and jurors, at no cost to caregivers. Since 2001, the Rooms have provided over 60,000 children with a safe haven removed from the stress and difficulties of the courtroom. This is the only such service in the country run by a non-profit.
The Rooms serve infants through teens. The Room contains toys, games, books, crafts, iPads, and video games. All children who visit the playrooms receive snacks, lunch, and an age-appropriate book to take home and keep (supplied by our Book Drive). A director, trained staff, and volunteers operate the Room. All staff and volunteers have the required Pennsylvania clearances. Allegheny County and the Fifth Judicial Court System of Pennsylvania provides ongoing financial support.