By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
In Family Court, a parent’s battle for justice requires relief by child support, custody, protection from domestic abuse, separation or even divorce. When children are at the center of these bitter family breakdowns, New York State provides child care in the courthouse.
“Nursery Attendants have the unique responsibility as caregivers to show kindness and stability to kids whose families are in crisis and falling apart,” said Local 1070 President Fausto Sabatino. “This service is vital so that children are not traumatized further by the hostility that sometimes occurs in a courtroom.”
In December, as part of the union’s ongoing fight for better pay, a dozen Local 1070 Nursery Attendants received title upgrades to level 10 from level 8 that come with salary increases, based on years of service.
“Every day is different here. We see new children every day most times only for a day,” said 13-year veteran Nursery Attendant Yahira Velarte, of Manhattan Family Court.
“Kids bring a range of emotions,” she said. “Some are shy. Some act out. We are strangers to them. It’s my job to dry their tears, help them adjust to their new surroundings and let them be children.”
Nursery Attendants decorate the courthouse child-care center to be a happy place. Murals of hand-painted flowers line the room, as do brightly colored numbers, the alphabet and toys. Cubbies house kids’ backpacks and coats. Small chairs are grouped around a library of fairy tales and pop-up books. The play areas and child-size kitchen beckon children to play and exercise their imaginations.
“No child should see or hear what goes on when their parents come before a judge,” Sabatino said. “There are no winners.”
After meeting with Judge Lawrence Marks of the Office of Court Administration, Sabatino said, “Our intention is to take care of these dedicated employees. The judge recognizes how valuable Nursery Attendants are and the care they give distressed children. He agreed to upgrade the title based on nationwide salary comparisons.”
“I really like my check now,” said Velarte, whose annual salary increased by about $5,000. “The raise helps me catch up on a few bills.”
“These upgrades underscore the importance of belonging to a union that fights for its members,” Sabatino said.
This story appeared in the March 2018 issue of Public Employee Press, the official publication of District Council, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal workers in New York City.