Franklin County children in the court system now have a safe environment in which to visit with parents and other family members, court advocates and court officials.
Officials of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) recently opened a visitation room. A ribbon-cutting was held Tuesday to officially dedicate the facility -- the first of its kind in the state. The room was made possible through donations made by the Poshard Foundation, building owners Bryan and Christen Drew and individual donors.
"Our office has been located here the last two years but this visitation room is new," explained Mariah Hayes, executive director of CASA. "We decided back in early November through a strategic plan to do something like this. I started contacting the Poshards and others to find out if we could make this a reality. Through them and the Drews it came to fruition."
Hayes said the room is a safe, secure place for children to have supervised visitation.
"One of the things we had was when children would meet at McDonald's or other places they have to visit, you can't really see how parents are interacting," she said. "Is there a bond or are things improving or is there a negative vibe there. This is a place where kids can come that they know is safe, they can feel comfortable and we can gather (information) in a supervised atmosphere. We wanted it to be family friendly in a relaxing environment."
Activities may include games, toys, books, game systems and movies.
"We also have a mini fridge and a microwave if they need to provide snacks. We wanted to think of anything during that time that would allow them to have as much of a home-like environment as much as possible," Hayes said.
The room will also provide a safe haven while children are waiting to attend court.
"If the court needs them, we can get them easily, but if not, they can just wait in a place that kind of takes the stress away."
Resident Judge Tom Tedeschi was impressed with the office addition.
"It's just a wonderful facility. It's a great day for the children of Franklin County and I know the board has worked hard to make this happen. The board has outstanding, dedicated individuals working hard for the children of Franklin County. This room is absolutely wonderful," he said.
Glenn Poshard of The Poshard Foundation said the CASA staff is doing a terrific job with the children of Franklin County.
"Kids that are caught up in these difficult family situations, you know, it's hard on them. It's a scary thing to face having to go to court. The CASA people that represent these people … a room like this where the children and family can come together with a CASA volunteer before they have to go off to court is very calming. We're grateful to be a part of it," he said.
Franklin County CASA currently has 27 advocates that serve just under 90 children. It is administered by 11 board members.