Professional Resource

The Core Components of the Safe Babies Court Team™ Approach

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The ZERO TO THREE Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) approach applies the science of early childhood development in meeting the urgent needs of infants and toddlers and strengthening their families. The approach is guided by a strategic framework containing 10 core components that work synergistically to produce best outcomes for young children and their parents.

ZERO TO THREE’s Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT) approach focuses on concrete strategies that allow the professionals who interact most directly with families to improve experiences of infants and toddlers under court jurisdiction, who are in foster care and at risk of removal, and their families. The SBCT approach is based on 10 core components that articulate a developmentally sensitive way to respond to child maltreatment of infants and toddlers.

These components are critical for a court team site to function effectively and successfully. Each team works to implement the components locally, utilizing their unique knowledge of the community to find local solutions that meet the developmental needs of infants and toddlers and their families.

The 10 core components align with 5 strategic areas of focus:

  • Area 1: Interdisciplinary, Collaborative, and Proactive Teamwork
  • Area 2: Enhanced Oversight and Collaborative Problem-Solving
  • Area 3: Expedited, Appropriate, and Effective Services
  • Area 4: Trauma-Responsive Support
  • Area 5: Continuous Quality Improvement

The following provides an introduction to the core components of the approach.

Area 1: Interdisciplinary, Collaborative, and Proactive Teamwork

At the heart of the SBCT approach is professionals coming together in partnership, across sectors, to engage in collaborative and proactive teamwork. This teamwork depends on leadership and staffing that supports the shift away from the usual way of doing business and towards improvement.

Core Component 1: Judicial and Child Welfare Leadership
This process starts by a judge and a leader in the local child welfare agency forging a partnership. Together, they are visible and vocal champions for system improvements to better meet the needs of infants, toddlers, and their families. Through their leadership, they push their colleagues forward towards a shared vision of improvement and, by modeling this cross-system partnership, demonstrate the possibility and power of collaborating across systems to effect change.

Core Component 2: Local Community Coordinator
The Community Coordinator is a full-time staff person who coordinates and participates in an interdisciplinary direct service team that supports the child and family. As a neutral party in this team, the Community Coordinator is positioned to facilitate information sharing and problem-solving. The Community Coordinator is the persistent voice at every table galvanizing everyone around a shared vision: to meet the urgent developmental needs of infants and toddlers and ensure meaningful supports for their parents.

Core Component 3: Active Community Team
In the SBCT approach, teamwork also takes place at a systems level through an Active Community Team. This team, which is made up of stakeholders from agencies, early childhood systems, and other providers, works to improve outcomes for very young children in foster care, or at risk for removal, and their families. They do this by making systems improvements with practice and policy changes. Importantly, this team advocates for supportive community services further upstream that can help prevent maltreatment in the first place. The judge and child welfare leader are key members of this team, with SBCT judges commonly serving in a leadership role on this team. The Community Coordinator is an important participant on this team, providing instrumental support in making sure the meetings happen regularly and frequently.

Area 2: Enhanced Oversight and Collaborative Problem-Solving

SBCTs emphasize the importance of frequent review hearings so that the Judge can provide close oversight of progress on the case, including making sure that the baby’s developmental need for nurturing stable care is being met. This judicial oversight goes hand-in-hand with the proactive, problem-solving work of the Family Team.

Core Component 4: Pre-Removal and Post-Removal Conferences and Family Team Meetings
These meetings provide the structure necessary for increasing oversight on the case progress and collaborative problem-solving to ensure proactive, meaningful efforts. In the SBCT approach, pre-removal and post-removal conferences are convened by the Family Team, made up of direct service professionals. This includes parents and family members or other social supports, the child welfare case planner, the parent’s attorney, the child’s attorney or Guardian Ad Litum, the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) if one is appointed, and the agency attorney. These meetings are the beginning of the journey, with the Family Team continuing to meet ‘out of court’ monthly to identify and address current needs and new needs that arise as expediently as possible. By scheduling frequent review hearings, the judge can closely monitor and spur forward progress in the case and set the expectation that the Family Team will come to the court ready to put forth thoughtful recommendations that the team has agreed upon.

Area 3: Expedited, Appropriate, and Effective Services

A key strategy for SBCTs is ensuring the services that meet children’s needs and their parents’ needs are fully identified as early as possible in the case process, that referrals are made in a highly individualized way for the specific needs of each child and family, and that the services are high quality and, when possible, evidence-based.

Core Component 5: Continuum of Services for Children and Families
Largely through the work of the family team, SBCTs take a highly individualized approach in working with each child and parent. The family’s concrete, basic needs, such as housing, food, and transportation, are rapidly addressed. The Judge expects, and the Family Team seeks out, timely screenings and assessments by appropriate service providers to identify needs accurately and fully. Because the child’s healthy development is at the center of decision-making, linkages to pediatric preventive health care and developmental supports happen quickly. Referrals to evidence-based services are prioritized, including parenting interventions that build the parent’s capacity for protective, nurturing care and Medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders.

Area 4: Trauma-Responsive Support

Recognizing and responding compassionately to trauma is a bedrock of the SBCT approach. Court teams recognize that many parents who become involved with the child welfare system have experienced significant trauma and adversity in their lives. The following core components are directed towards creating an atmosphere of healing.

Core Component 6: Meeting Parents Where They Are
This focuses on the fundamental need to let parents know that they are valued. SBCTs do this by elevating the parent’s voice, making sure that parents are heard and respected. Similarly, the judge and all professionals working with the parent look for opportunities to build confidence, motivation, and the capacity to self-advocate. The emphasis is on recognizing and building on parent’s strengths.

Core Component 7: Nurturing Parents’ Relationships and Building Social Supports in the Community
All people, and particularly those affected by trauma, benefit from strong social supports and connections. This component focuses attention on creating formal and informal opportunities for building mentoring relationships and social supports for parents, within their community and cultural circle. This includes building peer support networks to help parents navigate the child welfare system is an important strategy. It also emphasizes building supportive co-parenting relationships between parents and resource caregivers.

Core Component 8: Frequent, Quality Family Time – or visitation
When children are removed from the home, it is traumatic for the child and it is traumatic for the parent. Frequent, quality family time – or visitation, when safe and appropriate, is crucial for maintaining and strengthening the relationship between a young child and the parent. This core component specifies that a plan for ‘family time’ which will support the child’s attachment needs is put in place as soon as possible. Every effort is made to minimize stress and anxiety for children and parents and to provide mentoring and modeling to parents during family time to strengthen the parent’s capacity for nurturing, protective caregiving.

Core Component 9: Concurrent Planning
Each case creates thoughtful, individualized plans emphasizing relationship support for the young child through every stage of planning for permanency. Parents are valued, empowered, and actively engaged in this planning from Day 1. In the SBCT approach, concurrent planning is highly intentional in protecting early caregiving relationships, addressing protective factors, and ensuring proactive efforts to promote reunification or other lasting permanency outcomes.

Area 5: Continuous Quality Improvement

Core Component 10: System Commitment to Continuous Learning and Improvement
Continuous quality improvement is the engine that drives effective uptake and sustainability of SBCT practices and systems changes. For SBCT sites, this means systematically gathering and using data to reflect on needed improvements, with special attention to racial and other disparities. Many sites across the country receive technical assistance to support sites in using data for continuous quality improvement.

References

Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2018, November). Information Memorandum (ACYF-CB-IM-18-05): Reshaping child welfare in the United States to focus on strengthening families through primary prevention of child maltreatment and unnecessary parent-child separation. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services. Available Here

American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges, & ZERO TO THREE National Policy Center. (2009). Healthy beginnings, healthy futures: A judge’s guide. Reno, NV: National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Available Here

Casanueva, C., Harris, S., Carr, C., Burfend, C., & Smith, K. (2019). Evaluation in multiple sites of the Safe Babies Court Team approach. Child Welfare, 97(1), 85-107.

Casey Family Programs. (2019, December). Strategy Brief: How do Safe Babies Court Teams improve outcomes for infants and toddlers? Available Here

Center for the Study of Social Policy. (n.d.). Strengthening Families: Increasing positive outcomes for children and families. Available Here

Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau, Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2017). Supporting successful reunifications. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services. Available Here

Harris Professional Development Network, Child Welfare Committee. (in development). Guiding principles for family time from an infant and early childhood mental health perspective. Chicago, IL: Irving Harris Foundation.

Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. (n.d.). Early childhood systems. Available Here

Family Justice Initiative (n.d.). Attributes of high-quality legal representation for children and parents in child welfare proceedings. Available Here

Gatowski, S., Miller, N., Rubin, S., Escher, P., & Maze, C. (2016). Enhanced resource guidelines: Improving court practice in child abuse and neglect cases. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Available Here

Hudson, L. (2017). A guide to implementing the Safe Babies Court Team™ approach. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

McCombs-Thornton, K.L., & Foster, E.M. (2012). The effect of the ZERO TO THREE Court Teams initiative on types of exits from the foster care system: A competing risks analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(1), 169-178.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Child Welfare Committee. (2011). Birth parents with trauma histories and the child welfare system: A guide for judges and attorneys. Available Here

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2016). Applying the science of child development in child welfare systems. Available Here

Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams. (2019). Putting the science of early childhood to work in the courtroom: An e-learning series for judges and attorneys. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE. Available Here

ZERO TO THREE. (2019). Safe Babies Court Team™: Building strong families and healthy communities. [Video]. Available Here

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