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Driving Child Welfare Advocacy Forward for Georgia Families

Kay Kirkpatrick
ZERO TO THREE can help states advocate for policy reform with individualized and tailored support aligned with the Safe Babies approach.

Why it matters:

Every seven minutes, a baby or toddler is removed from their family due to alleged maltreatment or neglect. The Safe Babies approach builds aligned and integrated early childhood systems that support families’ health and well-being and reduce the risk of child welfare involvement.

What we did:

ZERO TO THREE provided technical assistance for Georgia advocates as they worked with the state’s legislative Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption to recommend the statewide implementation of infant-toddler court teams sites.

How it happened:

Strong partnerships with state partners and dedicated leaders committed to systems transformation and child welfare advocacy.

Proactive leadership in action

Driven by the proactive leadership of Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), ZERO TO THREE’s Safe Babies™ team provided technical assistance and advocacy support for the implementation and sustainability of infant-toddler court teams in Georgia.

A series of technical assistance (TA) sessions was designed in partnership with GEEARS and included an overview of the Safe Babies approach and outcomes, assessing the state’s capacity for sustainability, strategic policy planning and deep dive discussions on economic supports, housing, kinship care and substance use disorders. ZERO TO THREE customized these policy planning sessions with GEEARS and their partners based on their state’s needs, which evolved as the team learned more about an opportunity for a Safe Babies presentation to the state’s legislative Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption.  

Peer learning on key policy issues supports sustainability and strategic policy advocacy.  ZERO TO THREE reviewed key data and context related to Safe Babies and early childhood systems with GEEARS and their state partners, including Georgia State University, which houses the HRSA Infant Toddler Court Program grant. ZERO TO THREE’s individualized TA approach supported GEEARS Senior Health Policy Manager Callan Wells and Mitzi Fears, Safe Babies Statewide Coordinator in prepping for education and outreach to state leadership and policymakers.

GEEARS presented on the needs of very young children and families involved in child welfare and emphasized the need to expand access to infant and early childhood mental health workforce development and direct services. The report also cited support for increasing access to care and supporting growth of the workforce. 

Infants and toddlers are most likely to receive Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) services as well as most likely to enter foster care.

What's different about infant toddler courts is that connection to resources as well as mental health services. That connection to mental health services is critical for families in terms of keeping families together and for reunification.

A major milestone

After a well-received presentation by Ms. Wells and Ms. Fears, the final legislative Study Committee report cited Safe Babies research outcomes and the HRSA funded pilot of three infant toddler court sites.

The expansion of infant-toddler courts in Georgia, included in the study committee’s final recommendations by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick as the chair for the Senate Study Committee Foster Care and Adoption, signifies a major milestone.

Dr. John Constantino, Chief of Behavioral and Mental Health at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, was a key champion who supported the discussion and recommendations for infant-toddler courts on this committee. This legislative progress shows Georgia’s commitment to key principles and outcomes of the Safe Babies approach, emphasizing more frequent family time and court hearings, and increased access to a continuum of infant mental health and early intervention services.

These policy decisions are ultimately part of a larger systems change effort in Georgia, which aligns with the Safe Babies focus on igniting collective action by building aligned and integrated early childhood systems that support families and reduce the risk for child welfare involvement. 

Learn more about the evidence-based impact of Safe Babies.

We all have a role in the continuum of promotion and prevention.

You can’t do this alone. When it comes to promoting the health and mental wellbeing of our babies and toddlers, we all need to speak the same language. If we have an aligned community of early childhood professionals who understand the long-term outcomes, we can change hearts and minds.”

What to consider when gauging your state’s readiness for
child welfare advocacy and policy change:

  • Landscape: Develop an understanding of your state’s legislative process, schedule and aligned initiatives 
  • Priorities: Determine local policies and community issues that are most important for babies, toddlers and families   
  • Relationships: Create and build relationships with local and state policymakers 
  • Alignment: Define your sustainability and planning asks through a clear policy strategy; check for alignment with other advocates/advocacy organizations 
  • Preparation: Be distilled; draft talking points and quick responses to anticipate hard-hitting questions 
  • Network: Build a network of early childhood system advocates, grounded in infant and early childhood mental health, to share the same message 
  • Perspectives: Invite and partner with organizations supporting parents to include testimony and voices with lived experience 
  • Buzz: Work with local and state media partners to spread the message and build momentum 

How can Safe Babies support you in child welfare advocacy?

ZERO TO THREE’s Safe Babies team can be your thought partners in this process.

We can support analysis of the policy landscape in your state, support the development of strategic sustainability approaches, and create resources to support the babies, toddlers and families in your state and their immediate and long-term needs. Safe Babies’ Strengthening Families with Infants and Toddlers: A Policy Framework for States provides 11 recommendations for states and communities that aim to advance equitable outcomes supporting the health and well-being of very young children and their families, including those who are in or are at risk of entering the child welfare system. It is a tool to develop and advance policies that will drastically improve the systems and supports families with young children need to thrive and create protective factors that promote resilience.  

“Developing messages that resonate and support the needs of families statewide is not an easy feat,” said Ashley Kodet, Safe Babies TA Specialist for Georgia. “What Georgia is demonstrating is only the beginning. They identified what their babies, infants and families needed while planning for the implementation of the first Safe Babies site in their state. This is an opportunity to have a widespread reach across the state which we hope can be replicated across the country.” 

Our vision is to transform child welfare into family well-being.
A graphic promoting the ZERO TO THREE Conference for early childhood professionals.