Child care services in magistrate court finally offer women a choice

The casual throw-away line: ‘Did you know there is no child care in the magistrate courts?’ made Kathy Kaplan OAM realise this was something on which she could work.

Affectionately described as a cat with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) it took her less than a minute to say: “Let’s fix that”.

Ms Kaplan is the founder and president of impact, an entirely volunteer-run charity committed to making a difference to Victorian women and children fleeing extreme violence at home.

For a small charity assisting women, impact punches above its weight.

Lack of child care was raised at a meeting with the Victoria Police bayside family violence investigation unit in March 2019.

If a woman can’t attend court, because she has no one to look after her children, it prolongs her legal process to safety.

It was apparent to Ms Kaplan this service is essential for the women that impact help.

“We had raised funding during the year, and we wanted it to use it for something meaningful and necessary that would help women,” she said.

Inspector Bernie Edwards was head of the unit in Moorabbin at that time.

Together, Inspector Edwards and Ms Kaplan identified what was required to get the project up and running.

The police contacted the Moorabbin Magistrate Court about the logistics of the concept.

Was the court interested in collaborating on the issue, and could it make space available, separate from the general waiting room?

It came back with a positive response.

In the meantime, Ms Kaplan approached Emerge Women & Children’s Support Network, an independent organisation delivering housing and support services to women and children at a crisis time.

Her proposal to Emerge: “If you do the hiring of qualified child care staff and the ongoing administration, we will provide the funding” was met with a resounding yes.

“It’s about human beings talking, listening to each other and then human beings collaborating. That’s how we are going to fix the world,” Ms Kaplan said.

It took a couple of months to have the child care service installed at the court, with a minimum of two qualified child care workers who have received trauma training, working on Tuesday each week.

The program, now in place for a year, costs impact around $35,000 per year to fund the one day.

Ms Kaplan said the child care workers tell us the response has been fantastic.

The women can be in the room with their kids, while waiting for their case to be heard, instead of spending hours in an open child-unfriendly waiting room within sight, sound and reach of their perpetrator.

“When the women are in the court, they are in a better headspace [without the distraction of their children], so they can concentrate on orders or comments made in the courtroom,” Inspector Edwards said.

“All the women I spoke to at that time were glowing in their praise for the child care support [at the court house],” he said.

Ms Kaplan’s long-term goal is to provide the service to more courts and then take the data to the government with a proposal to accept responsibility and funding of the service.

The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who’s experienced, or is at risk of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

Image: Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Carol Saffer

Carol Saffer is an award-winning journalist enthusiastic about creating copy that engages audiences. She is curious by nature, possesses a growth mindset and thrives on new and unusual challenges. Carol has experience as a reporter for various regional Victorian newspapers and writing for Business Day in The Age. Her previous career was in the fashion industry, and she holds post-graduate degrees in business and journalism.

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