Safe Babies Court Teams

Every seven minutes an infant or toddler is removed from home due to alleged abuse or neglect. When that happens, those children are often placed in a child welfare system that is harmful to their development. ZERO TO THREE’s Safe Babies Court Teams transforms child welfare into the practice of child “well-being” by using the science of early childhood development. The program connects babies and their families with the support and services they need to promote healthy child development, while at the same time ensuring speedier exits from the system.

The first three years of life encompass the most critical phase of brain development. It is during the first 36 months that the foundation is being laid for how a child perceives the world around him or her: is it a safe encouraging setting where the child is surrounded by loving adults and has every opportunity to become a happy child and a curious learner? Or is it a dangerous and hostile territory where adults cannot be relied on to respond appropriately to the child’s needs? The stakes are high but developmental neuroscience demonstrates that this is the time –when the foundation of the brain’s architecture is being laid—to intervene on behalf of victims of maltreatment. Recognizing this, ZERO TO THREE created the Safe Babies Court Teams Project, rooted in developmental science, which aims to:

  1. increase awareness among those who work with maltreated infants and toddlers about the negative impact of abuse and neglect on very young children; and,
  2. change local systems to improve outcomes and prevent future court involvement in the lives of very young children.

Safe Babies Court Teams are changing the trajectory for infants and toddlers in foster care. Families are embraced by a team and given targeted and timely services. The adults feel valued as individuals and as parents while they learn how to support the healthy development of their children. Results show that their children are reaching permanency three times faster than infants and toddlers in the general foster care population. Almost two-thirds of them find permanent homes with members of their families while only one-third of infants and toddlers in the general population exit foster care to family members.

Through community-wide collaboration led by the judges who oversee child maltreatment cases, children 0-3 and their families are receiving focused attention that recognizes individual strengths and challenges. Interventions are offered to meet the specific needs of each child and parent. Unlike typical foster care cases where formal hearings occur every 3 to 6 months, these families and the teams of professionals hold hearings and/or family team meetings at least once a month. This approach is recognized by the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare as being highly relevant to the child welfare system and demonstrating promising research evidence.