LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — For kids in court, it is not an easy place to be, so the Lancaster County courthouse is trying to be more kid-friendly. On Thursday, the courthouse opened two children’s comfort rooms.
The Lancaster Bar Association and Lancaster Law Foundation pitched in to fund and design the comfort rooms, converting two conference rooms in the courthouse. One judge had the idea after his experiences in family court..
“Coming to court is a traumatic experience for anybody, but you put children in and it’s even harder on a child,” Judge Craig Stedman said.
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When Stedman started doing family law cases, he realized the courthouse was no place for kids.
“I realized that they’re sitting out here in the hallways that you walk through,” he said. “You know it’s scary, going through metal detectors to get in here, you got people, deputy sheriffs with guns.”
UPMC psychologist Melissa Brown echoed Stedman, saying court can negatively impact kids’ mental health.
“It’s really not kid-friendly to sit still, be quiet,” she said. “Sometimes children can even internalize that they’re bad or they’ve done something wrong. “
Stedman wanted to create a space just for kids, so he reached out to the Lancaster Bar Association and Lancaster Law Foundation.
Executive Director Lisa Driendl-Miller knew kids needed this.
“I’ve seen, walked up the court hallways and seen the children sitting there waiting. Sometimes they’re here for hours,” she said.
Driendl-Miller went to the Law Foundation board and got $4,000 to create two children’s comfort rooms.
“Attorneys donated books and crayons and their kids’ toys,” she said.
She and her staff spent a year designing the rooms. Now that they are open, everyone hopes this resource helps kids cope.
“Giving them that space is really validating that they are humans as well, and they have these big emotions,” Brown said.
It can also be a tool for justice.
“If the child’s more relaxed, they’re more likely going to tell the truth, they’ll be more comfortable testifying, and that’ll help us get closer to the truth and really what’s the right thing to do in the case,” Stedman said.
Driendl-Miller said the Law Foundation has more boxes of books which they plan to rotate through the rooms periodically. She also said people can contact the foundation if they have books or toys to donate.