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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

A Brief History of The Safe Babies Court Teams Project


Origins of the Project

The Dependency Court Intervention Program for Family Violence (DCIPFV) project began as a conversation between two people—the first a judge and former ZERO TO THREE (ZTT) fellow and the second a psychology professor and former ZTT Board President, about the number of very young children involved in domestic violence cases. Understanding the developmental needs of infants and toddlers, particularly those exposed to trauma, the psychology professor worked with the judge to develop a project that used targeted case management to address family domestic violence and the relationship between mother and child.

The Safe Babies Court Teams Project at ZERO TO THREE is based upon the DCIPFV Project. The project recognized from DCIPFV that juvenile and family court judges, who are responsible for the safety of the children in their courts, can be powerful agents of change, and the Safe Babies Court Teams adds to that power with community organizing and education, and additional services for babies and toddlers. The additions reflected in the project’s two main goals implemented across all Safe Babies Court Team sites are:

1)   to improve outcomes for maltreated infants and toddlers; and,

2)   to reduce the recurrence of substantiated reports of abuse/neglect of infants and toddlers in the courts’ jurisdictions. 

This developmental approach for very young children in child welfare demonstrates to policymakers how babies-first policies can protect the development of infants and toddlers.  

Project Timeline and Evaluation    

In 2004, ZERO TO THREE secured short-term grants to implement Safe Babies Court Teams in Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  Work began in Iowa, Mississippi, and Texas in the fall of 2005, and Louisiana and Pennsylvania joined them in 2006.  California, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Nebraska joined the project in 2008, and in 2009 work began in Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Two evaluations have been completed to assess the effectiveness of the project. One evaluation was completed by James Bell Associates  in 2009 and a second was completed by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a second was completed by Kimberly McCombs-Thornton, Ph.D. in 2011. Both evaluations yielded positive results and demonstrated that the work of the Safe Babies Court Teams Project is making significantly positive differences in the lives of infants, toddlers, and their families. 

The Major Issues

Several issues have surfaced as local community members have received training, and become more familiar with the needs of very young children and their families. Disproportionality, or the problem of certain racial and ethnic groups being disproportionately represented in the child welfare system, has also been an issue in all of the current Safe Babies Court Teams sites. African-American, Native Hawaiian, and Native American communities, in particular, continue to be overrepresented in child welfare and the courts. Other issues are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), Domestic Violence, and Child Sexual Abuse, all of which adversely affect infant and toddler development.  Equally as devastating is the intergenerational component perpetuated as these problems pass from generation to generation. Not only do the current problems need addressing in infants and toddlers, the cycle of abuse also has to be addressed so that these problems do not continue. Understanding this cycle has led the project to begin examining the issue of Historical Trauma, or the collective and cumulative emotional wounding across generations. 1


1 Brave Heart, M.Y. (2003). The historical trauma response among natives and its relationship with substance abuse: A Lakota illustration. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(1), 7-13.



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