In 2005, ZERO TO THREE launched our first Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) site. SBCT focus on how we can give each baby the best life possible. We do that through making specific changes to standard practices that meet the developmental needs of very young children, such as eliminating multiple caregiver changes after the child is moved out of the parents’ home. We also focus on recognizing the trauma that parents bring with them to the table. Domestic violence, depression, and substance abuse are all symptoms of desperately painful childhoods. We talk about the racism that has disproportionately identified families of color as needing child welfare system involvement. We try to help judges, lawyers, case workers, and service providers bring respect for families’ unique struggles into the judgments they make, the messages they communicate, and the decisions they reach about what is truly in the children’s best interests.
The ZERO TO THREE community coordinator is central to the success of SBCT. As any of our judges will tell you, their community coordinator is the engine that drives the changes—bringing in new partners, finding new services, welcoming parents, and generating the collaborative spirit that supports a change in how the community functions. Over the years our community coordinators have learned some important lessons:
- “Everything’s a pilot:” Because building an SBCT is an ongoing exercise in democracy, it’s critical to jointly decide what to change. By trying each new idea with one case the SBCT will be able to refine the idea for the next pilot with two or three families/cases.
- “No just doesn’t mean nothing to us.” The community coordinator imbues the SBCT with the energy and persistence to keep going even when cases end with less than optimal outcomes. Each misstep is a learning experience for the team. Finger pointing and blaming do not have a place in the analysis.
- Be the change you wish to see in the world. Throughout this work, the community coordinator models compassion, respect, flexibility, patience, humility, and openness with everyone. Parents watch the way we treat each other as they think about what they can expect from us. They also apply what they learn from us to their relationships with adult family members, friends, teachers, co-workers and supervisors, and their children. Adopting these qualities requires a major shift away from the punitive way parents have routinely been treated.
- Practice “not knowing.” Not knowing means suspending assumptions about the meaning of speech and actions and being open to someone else’s life perspective. While listening to colleagues and to parents, not knowing allows the community coordinator to explore the world as seen by others. Armed with a fuller appreciation of the other’s perspective, the community coordinator must be able to transcend his or her own point of view and acknowledge multiple—equally legitimate—ways to see a particular situation.
Cross-Sites Meeting Invitation
From day one, we knew that sharing information across SBCT sites would benefit each individual team. This year we are meeting in Orlando, Florida, and we welcome anyone who wants to know more about the SBCT approach to reforming the child welfare system. If these topics are important to your work, we invite you to join the ZERO TO THREE SpB CT Project and the Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams at our 10th Cross Sites Meeting from October 19-21, 2016.