Each year in Los Angeles County, the Children's Court hears from 15,000 to 20,000 juvenile dependency cases and, due to abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation, orders that more than 27,000 children be placed under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services.
By 1974, child dependency cases in Los Angeles County had grown to the point to require that a full time judge be assigned. Prior to July 1992, child dependency hearings were held at the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles and in temporary trailers behind Van Nuys Superior Court. The proceedings and formal courtroom environments were seen by many children, already dealing with abuse and neglect, as intimidating and stressful. The courthouse made them feel bad, "like I killed someone," or "like a criminal."*
Child advocates and county social service professionals lobbied for a friendlier court environment for children. County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman† responded by throwing his support behind the creation of a special child-friendly court, obtaining a final vote for approval by 1978. It was not until 1987, however, that funding came through for construction to begin.
In July 1992, Los Angeles County finally opened its new child dependency courthouse, designed specifically as a "child-sensitive" facility, the first in the nation. The 25 courtrooms are smaller and less intimidating to children than traditional courtrooms. Under supervision by professionals and volunteers, special areas are designed for children, aged 4 to 18, to play in, engage in interesting activities or just catch a nap. These features are meant to reduce, as much as possible, the stress and trauma associated with the child’s experience in the legal system.
Children’s Court focuses entirely on children in abuse and neglect cases. It handles a caseload that is larger than the caseload for entire states. The court becomes involved in Department of Children and Family Services cases only when the agency must take legal action for the protection of a child.
† The court's namesake, Edmund D. Edelman, served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from 1975 to 1994. He worked to support social services for the homeless, battered women, abused children, the disabled, the mentally ill, people with AIDS, and those recovering from substance abuse. He supported the establishment of Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services, Children's Court and Department of Consumer Affairs.