Updated: January 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm
At the Terry R. Harris Judicial Complex in downtown Colorado Springs, there's a wing reserved for the innocent.
It's tucked into a back hallway on the first floor, and while the courtrooms upstairs bustle with matters of justice and civic order, the young visitors here attend to coloring books, story time and maybe a nap if they're tuckered.
And unlike judges, the licensed caregivers at Court Care for the Pikes Peak Region don't focus on past misdeeds.
"We don't care why the parents are here," said Peggy Scroggins, center director at the free, licensed service, which is available to parents who can demonstrate that they have court business. "What's important is that every child here is safe, having fun and maybe even learning something before they leave here."
Established in 2003, the program has cared for an estimated 38,000 children, providing a safe space while parents take care of their obligations.
The kids also leave with a gift - a free book they pick out.
Although other cities offer daycare options for court visitors, Colorado Springs boasts the only on-site center in the state, said Jan Weiland, an advisory member of the group's board of directors, staffed heavily with court officers.
The service is often used by those with business at the Self-Help Center, but it's also there for anyone with a court date, including jurors and victims, and those who attend various classes mandated by probation, according to the organization.
The center accommodates up to 28 children at a time, in two bright, airy classrooms overseen by the center's three full-time workers, one part-time worker and one volunteer.
Colorful decorations are used to keep the rooms from seeming stuffy, and the center's staff frequently circulates the toys and educational activities on hand. The doors on each classroom within the center remain locked for security.
Although space is limited, only a tiny fraction of families are turned away, said Beth Seymour, a grant writer who tracks usage for the organization. Last year, the center was unable to accommodate just 40 of the 4,000 children who were brought by.
"Our goal is to care for 99 percent or more," she said.
One day recently, a young toddler was the only client around, and she smiled and laughed as two caregivers doted on her.
Court Care is a private nonprofit that receives more than half its annual $200,000 operating budget from charitable foundations and miscellaneous donations, according to figures published in its 2013 annual report. The service is allowed to operate rent-free by El Paso County.
Keeping the center funded is "a constant, ongoing struggle," but the payoff is worth it, said courthouse namesake and former El Paso County Administrator Terry R. Harris, an ex-officio member of the organization's board.
Before Court Care was established, children were often among those in the gallery in court, and that struck many as a problem.
It wasn't just a question of one more disruption in the courtroom, Harris said, although that was part of it.
It was more a matter of plain sense: Should children be present while their parents duke out the terms of their custody arrangements in court? Or be in the audience when crimes such as sexual assault are laid bare in clinical detail?
"What's that going to do to the kids?" Harris asked.
Now, children are in a safe place while their parents attend to adult business, he said.
"We're proud of this."
For more details, or to make a donation, visit courtcare.org.