Free childcare program for families attending Marion County court resumes

Salem attorney Catherine Trottman has seen parents juggle court appearances while regaining custody of their children. 

Trottman, who often represents clients in treatment court, said the program is demanding: three court appearances for two hours each month. She’s seen how disrupted courtrooms can get when parents are unable to get childcare and bring their kids with them. 

“How can we make it so these kids aren’t going into the courtroom?” said Andrea Riley, executive administrator with Salem firm Kueny Law.

Riley and Trottman are volunteers on the board of Court and Community Care, a recently reopened program that provides free childcare for parents attending court in Marion County.

Court and Community Care, formerly CourtCare, ran for two years after legislators in 2017 granted Marion County $100,000 to run a pilot program. Trottman said parents in treatment court often used the program.

“They’re working on getting their kids back … They have to do a lot; they have to come to court, they have to go to drug and alcohol treatment, they have to give urinalyses to prove that they’re clean and sober,” she said. “There’s a lot that’s asked of these people.”

Trained child care workers looked after kids at the Salem YMCA, just two blocks from the county courthouse. At the end of the pilot, the YMCA demolition and reconstruction was about to start and the Covid pandemic began. With court proceedings moved online and no facility, the program ended.

With support from private donations and local groups, Court and Community Care relaunched June 1.

The program’s board of directors is made up of nine people in the legal profession, including attorneys and former court liaisons. 

Court and Community Care is a longtime partner with the Salem YMCA and pays a monthly rate to share a space in the building with the YMCA’s drop-in childcare. It’s open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with extended hours on Wednesdays.

What the program aims to do, according to Riley, is “help parents parent.” 

The organization’s board aspires to alleviate some of the stress families experience as they attend court. 

“We’re talking about boring stuff but also really adult stuff and so it’s just not the best environment for kids to be in,” Trottman said. 

Outside of concerns for young children causing distractions in court, a larger problem is potentially exposing them to upsetting information. Court proceedings can include discussions of divorce, abuse, substance use and other details parents would rather kids not hear.

“That is half of our driving force, is to reduce any trauma that these kids may experience by having to go back into the courthouse and hear things that they just witnessed happen at home,” Riley said. “The other part of it, too, is just helping these caregivers.”

Children who attended the pilot run of Court and Community Care grew to trust and feel safe with caregivers as their parents continued using the program. Riley remembers how children used to ask for hugs and crawl into her lap at the program.

In addition to hands-on, attentive care, the program gave children new clothing, snacks, stuffed animals and toothbrushes. Riley said these are things Court and Community Care hopes to provide to the community again. 

Children between the ages of 6 weeks and 12 years old are welcome to the program. Currently, the program has a five child capacity which board members hope to increase.

“Our past experience would say, there’s probably more need than that,” Allison Boomer, a member of Court and Community Care’s board of directors, said. “So our goal is to get it back up … full-time capacity for roughly 12.” 

Court and Community Care is working with the Salem courts and organizations like the Marion County Bar Association and Oregon Women Lawyers to bring the program back to its previous condition. 

Money from donations and fundraising events will go to increasing the program’s hours, providing items for children and further in the future moving to a new building.

To continue this effort, Court and Community Care is hosting a fundraiser on Sunday, July 14, at the Willamette Heritage Center. 

It will include a raffle and silent auction, as well as games, face painting and food. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with tickets $10 for children and $25 for adults.

It’s the first of a few fundraising events the program plans on doing annually.

Parents and family members can arrange childcare from Court and Community Care by contacting America Flores, the YMCA’s early learning director. Flores can be reached by email at [email protected]. The court program is developing its website, which board members said should be up soon. People can ask questions about the program by emailing [email protected].

Contact reporter Madeleine Moore: [email protected].

A MOMENT MORE, PLEASE– If you found this story useful, consider subscribing to Salem Reporter if you don’t already. Work such as this, done by local professionals, depends on community support from subscribers. Please take a moment and sign up now – easy and secure: SUBSCRIBE.

Madeleine Moore is working as a reporter at Salem Reporter through the University of Oregon’s Charles Snowden internship program. She came to Salem after graduating from the University of Oregon in June 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. To relax, Madeleine spends time with her labradoodle or bakes batches of cookies.