Tenacity turned into treasure at San Francisco courts’ Children’s Waiting Room

by Allen Jones

What began in 1991, thanks largely to the tenacious work of some women lawyers, eliminated the need for parents or guardian to panic when faced with the dilemma of having to do business in a San Francisco courthouse without childcare.

Children’s Waiting Room staff gather at the Hall of Justice – from left, Maire Larkin, Dinky Manek Enty and Denise Bradford.
Children’s Waiting Room staff gather at the Hall of Justice – from left, Maire Larkin, Dinky Manek Enty and Denise Bradford.

 

The Children’s Waiting Room (CWR) is open and free for all who have court business in a San Francisco courthouse. Their flyer states: “We provide a safe place for infants, children and teens to have fun while their parents or guardian are doing business in the building. We serve families of parties in divorce or legal actions, witnesses and people called to serve as jurors.”

The visionaries who created this place of childcare peace and happiness for the thousands of minor children who accompany their parents or guardian to court each year was founded by the San Francisco Women’s Lawyers Alliance (SFWLA) with funding and support provided by the Superior Court of California and was operated by the Northern California Service League (NCSL).

The Children’s Waiting Room (CWR) is open and free for all who have court business in a San Francisco courthouse.

The NCSL, which has served California’s incarcerated and formally incarcerated since 1946, merged with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) in 2012. Today, CJCJ is proud to continue to operate this jewel of a program in the area of children services.

Today, the three women in charge of keeping order in the SF courts for CJCJ are Deputy Director Dinky Manek Enty, Site Coordinator Denise Bradford and Program Manager Maire Larkin.

Opening the CWR in 1991 at the Hall of Justice, located at 850 Bryant St., was a statement of shear “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The building is old and lacked accommodations for a children’s area, which is now law. But the determined women who saw a children’s room as an essential program were excited at the opportunity to have a Hall of Justice corridor turned into their Children’s Waiting Room.

Maire Larkin works the Hall of Justice CWR. Along with a part time assistant, she watches up to five little ones each day. When she has no children in the waiting room, Larkin roams the halls of 850 Bryant looking to inform some who might not know of such courthouse accommodations. In addition, Larkin performs another great and unique in San Francisco service. She schedules weekly one-on-one hour-long private visits between incarcerated fathers housed at the Hall of Justice and their children.

The determined women who saw a children’s room as an essential program were excited at the opportunity to have a Hall of Justice corridor turned into their Children’s Waiting Room.

Denise Bradford runs the 400 McAllister civil court CWR location, which is quite impressive. This children’s area was created in 1998 with the assistance of a new state law that mandates a children’s waiting room in all new courthouse construction.

Bigger than a two-bedroom apartment, it beams with clean. And of its many amenities, including the kitchen, sleeping area, changing area, lactose station and play area, it’s a parent’s dream. And what might be overlooked, next door to its regular size restroom is a toddler’s restroom, equipped with a built-in toddler size porcelain potty that on sight could convince a toddler to try and go solo in doing his or her business.

Courthouse staff donate generously to ensure the children who come to the Waiting Room feel lots of love at Christmas time.
Courthouse staff donate generously to ensure the children who come to the Waiting Room feel lots of love at Christmas time.

Not forgetting the teens, there is a PlayStation. And at the end of the year, there is a toy drive, where all of the courthouse is invited to help stock Christmas gifts for many of the underprivileged they serve throughout the year.

Bureaucracy was no match for the tenacity that made the Children’s Waiting Rooms happen and become a success. However, the CWR could use some volunteers or interns. You are encouraged to go through the carefully screened volunteer process by first contacting Deputy Director Dinky Manek Enty at CJCJ, at 415-621-5661, ext. 120, or going to www.cjcj.org.

Children’s Waiting Room hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1:00-6:30 p.m., excluding holidays

Child and family visits: Through the specialized waiting room in San Francisco County Jail No. 4, CJCJ manages and facilitates family visits between children and their incarcerated fathers. Visits are conducted Monday through Friday afternoons from 1:00 to 6:30 p.m.

To learn more, contact

  • Maire Larkin, Hall of Justice, Room 106, 850 Bryant St., San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 553-9377
  • Denise Bradford, Civil Courthouse, Room 111, 400 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94102, (415) 703-0255

San Francisco writer Allen Jones, author of “Case Game: Activating the Activist,” can be reached at (415) 756-7733 or jones-allen@att.net. Visit his website, at http://casegame.squarespace.com.