The Safe Babies Court Team™

About This Program

Target Population: Infants and toddlers up to age 3 coming under court jurisdiction and their families Professionals engaged in disciplines touching the lives of maltreated infants and toddlers

For children/adolescents ages: 0 – 3

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 3

Program Overview

The Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) is a community engagement and systems change initiative focused on improving how the courts, child welfare agencies, and related child-serving organizations work together to improve and expedite services for young children who are under court supervision. The SBCT is designed to:

  • Protect babies from further harm and address the damage already done
  • Expose the structural issues in the child welfare system that prevent families from succeeding

Each SBCT is convened by a judge with jurisdiction over foster care cases and by child welfare agency leaders, and includes other judges, child welfare staff, attorneys, service providers, and community leaders. Once convened, an agency in that area contracts with ZERO TO THREE to hire and supervise a dedicated community coordinator who staffs the SBCT, oversees program implementation, and works collaboratively with the local leaders who make final decisions about what works in their community. Once the SBCT is established, they work with individual families, learning important lessons that are applied to subsequent cases and to updating the policies, regulations, and laws governing child welfare practice, creating the basis for wider practice and systems change.

To facilitate the work of the SBCT, ZERO TO THREE also provides the scientific context, a forum for system reform discussions, and increased national attention on infants and toddlers in foster care.

Program Goals

The goals for the The Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) are to:

  • Goal 1: Increase knowledge about the negative impact of abuse and neglect on very young children:
    • Objective #1: Provide training to judicial, legal, mental health, child welfare, and early childhood professionals on the social and emotional development of infants and toddlers, infant mental health, historical trauma, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, the impact of substance use disorders on families, childhood sexual abuse and other issues of concern to the Court Teams.
    • Objective #2: Incorporate leaders of each SBCT into the national learning community hosted by ZERO TO THREE.
  • Goal 2: Change local systems to improve outcomes and prevent future court involvement in the lives of very young children:
    • Objective #1: Engage multi-disciplinary partners in the activities of each Court Team.
    • Objective #2: Improve/expedite services for children and families, using the active efforts standard applied to cases governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act:
      • All children monitored by the SBCT are screened for developmental delays and receive appropriate services as needed.
      • No child in foster care experiences more than two changes in placement.
      • All children in foster care participate in two or more weekly supervised visits with their parents and one or more visits with siblings unless parent-child contact exacerbates the trauma that led to the child’s removal.
      • Within the first 60 days after the child’s removal from his parents, each case plan includes a concurrent plan for achieving permanency for the child with committed relatives or foster parents willing to assume a permanent role in the child’s life if the birth parents are unable to overcome the problems that led to the child’s removal.
      • The child and parents participate in a mental health assessment documenting strengths and weaknesses in their interactions and attachment to each other.
      • Permanency is achieved within 18 months of a child's placement in foster care. Cases that require more than 12 months for the child to reach permanency will be reviewed for factors causing the extended period of foster care.

Essential Components

The essential components of The Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) include:

  • Judicial Leadership: Before there is an SBCT, there is a judge and/or a child welfare agency leader who is tired of seeing the children become the parents and then the grandparents of babies in foster care, who is passionate about doing right by babies, and who recognizes the importance of the child’s first three years. They recognize the value in reforming the child welfare system’s response to the youngest children as an initial step in avoiding the next generation of child maltreatment. Once the SBCT is established, from the bench, the judge(s) on the SBCT set the tone of dignity and respect. Their demeanor reflects an understanding of how traumatic experiences contribute to the parents’ behavior in hearings and interactions with social services. Each SBCT judge sets an expectation that hearings are conducted in a caring and thoughtful manner, leading the effort to reduce the adversarial nature of court proceedings. The judge keeps everyone focused on achieving timely permanency and resolving the issues that brought families into the system. This approach reduces the stress level of both families and professionals in the court. Off the bench, the judge also knows that his/her best efforts are insufficient if they aren’t combined with the work of the whole community. The local judge in SBCT communities is the catalyst for change because of his/her unique position of authority in the processing of child welfare cases.
  • Local Community Coordinator: In each SBCT community, a local community coordinator with child development expertise works with the judge to lead the SBCT. The community coordinator, with technical assistance provided by ZERO TO THREE, coordinates services and resources for infants and toddlers and their families within the local community. In addition, the community coordinator is responsible for staffing the stakeholder team, recruiting new members to the stakeholder team, entering data about the families served into the SBCT database, and representing the SBCT in various community efforts as well as the national SBCT learning community. The community coordinator should be employed full-time and due to the multiple responsibilities of the position that include developing the community team and resources, the SBCT should adhere to a caseload limit of no more than 20 open cases at any one time. Saturating the work with more than 20 families per coordinator dilutes the quality of work done with each family.
  • SBCT Stakeholders Focused on the Big Picture: The SBCT is made up of key community stakeholders who commit to restructuring the way the community responds to the needs of maltreated infants and toddlers. The SBCT meets monthly to learn about the services available in the community, review data, identify gaps in services, and discuss issues and patterns raised by the cases that members of the SBCT are monitoring. Participation in the SBCT is by open invitation.
  • Targeting Infants and Toddlers in Out-of-Home Care/ Under the Court’s Jurisdiction: Comprehensive services are offered to each child including screening for developmental delays and disabilities, medical care delivered in a medical home, and mental health services that focus on the parent-child relationship.
  • Valuing Birth Parents: Because the first permanency goal is to help parents and children reunify, the SBCT must respond to the needs of the birth parents and the wide variety of traumatic stressors present in the parents’ lives. The families served by the SBCT face an overwhelming number of risk factors in comparison to the general population. Almost all of the parents of young children who enter the child welfare system have suffered their own history of trauma. There are many forms of prejudice that families in the child welfare system confront because they are poor; unmarried; lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender; adhere to non-Christian religious beliefs, or lack education. People of color bear the brunt of this oppression. Members of each SBCT must treat all parents with kindness, giving parents the dignity and respect they have so rarely experienced, to develop an emotional connection with families that permit them to build genuine relationships of concern and support.
  • Placement and Concurrent Planning: From the baby’s point of view, it would be ideal if the person who agrees to take physical custody of the child when she is removed from her parents’ care would also agree to become the child’s permanent parent if the birth parents are unable to overcome the challenges that led to the need for a foster care placement. Very young children make sense of their world within the context of their relationships with a few cherished caregivers. All too often the transition into foster care carries with it a number of transfers between foster homes. Concurrent planning places equal emphasis on supporting a second permanent family in the event that reunification is ruled out. It needs to begin at removal. To be successful, the SBCT must support a mindset about fostering that values birth parents, understands the importance of placement stability, and the complicated dynamics that can come into play between birth and foster parents. Regardless of the final permanency outcome for the child – reunification, guardianship, or adoption – a relationship would ideally continue between the birth and foster parents after the child welfare case closes so that the child's family expands to include all the people who love her.
  • The Foster Parent Intervention, Mentors, and Extended Family: Referred to by some experts as the primary intervention for children in foster care, foster parents play a pivotal role in determining how safe and nurtured young foster children feel. Their role is multifaceted:
    • To provide loving care for children placed with them
    • To advocate for the children in their homes
    • To nurture healthy relationships between the children in their care and birth parents, siblings, and extended family

    Balancing these roles requires training and support from the child welfare agency prior to and –just as importantly—while foster parents are engaged with a child and their family. They should be regarded as respected members of the SBCT who participate in family team meetings, court hearings, and community training.

  • Pre-Removal Conferences and Monthly Family Team Meetings: Every day that babies spend in foster care limbo is a day the SBCT should be trying to resolve the issues that led to the child’s removal from home. With Pre-Removal Conferences (PRC) the SBCT can begin their work before the child is removed from the home. Structured in much the same way family team meetings (FTM) are organized, the parents are invited and asked to bring with them anyone they consider to be members of their support network. The meeting is facilitated by a trained mediator, either someone engaged by the child welfare agency or the community coordinator. It is at the PRC that a substitute caregiver is identified from within the parents' extended family and friends (if possible) and that the parent learns when they will be able to see their child(ren).The PRC sets the tone for the FTMs that occur monthly. Parents and their chosen circle of support are key participants in these meetings.
  • Parent-Child Contact (Visitation): An SBCT sees parent-child contact as a critical way to help the child and parents experience one another as loving partners in their relationship. Each family has their own strengths and challenges when it comes to spending time together, and plans for supporting their relationship must be formed on an individualized basis. Very young children become attached to their parents whether the parents are able to provide consistent loving care or not. While the quality of that attachment may be insecure or even disorganized, separating a young child from his/her parents is still painful. The goal of parent-child contact is to permit the child and parent to keep the other a living presence in their lives and to improve the parent’s responsiveness to the child’s needs. The number of visits per week is not limited since this increased contact may lead to faster permanency for the child.
  • Continuum of Mental Health Services: Infants and toddlers who have experienced trauma may benefit from mental health services that work with them and their parents and/or foster parents to learn to trust again and form secure attachments and relationships with their birth parents and/or foster parents. Parents who maltreat their very young children need some level of intervention to help them understand their children’s needs and learn ways to build strong supportive bonds. The intensity of the intervention should mirror the specific characteristics of the parent and child, the level of pre-existing trauma in their relationship, and the level of trauma in the parent’s own childhood experiences. In order of intensity, recommended interventions include:
    • An assessment of the parent-child relationship: Relationship assessments include two primary procedures. A structured interactional play assessment that reveals how the caregiver behaves with the child and an interview with the adult to understand the adult’s “working model of the child.” This allows the clinical evaluator to assess the adult’s ability to provide appropriate care to the child.
    • Teachable moments: Taking advantage of in-the-moment opportunities to help parents successfully respond to their child’s behavior.
    • Visit coaching: Visit coaches can come from a range of professions including child welfare case workers, in-home service providers, and CASA volunteers. SBCT coaches receive training about child development and supervision regarding each specific family they support. They work closely with the parents to make each visit a good experience.
    • Psychoeducational parenting intervention: In individual sessions with parents and their young child, a trained professional shares information on child development and how best to meet the child’s needs while assisting the parents in utilizing newly acquired information and skills.
    • Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP): In CPP, the clinician seeks to heal the relationship between the child and the parent by helping the parent develop a realistic assessment of the child’s needs and abilities. Sitting with the parent and child, the therapist is able to draw out the parent's early experiences that may be affecting her interactions with her young child.
  • Training and Technical Assistance: ZERO TO THREE staff and consultants provide training and technical assistance to the SBCT community on topics such as: infant and toddler development; parenting interventions; services available to foster children in the community; children and trauma; and parental substance abuse, racism, domestic violence, mental illness, and poverty. Through weekly team meetings and individual supervisory calls, SBCT Project leadership staff provide support and direction to each of the community coordinators. By participating in ZERO TO THREE’s annual Scientific Meeting and annual conference and in the SBCT annual Cross Sites meeting, the community coordinators, judges, and key members of the SBCT are integrated into the larger framework of ZERO TO THREE’s efforts on behalf of infants and toddlers.
  • Understanding the Impact of the SBCT’s Work: Each SBCT evaluates its work. The approach is focused on bringing key participants into continuous quality improvement (CQI) and evaluation planning. CQI is a process for identifying areas of strength to build on in future work and challenges to address through deliberate action.

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

The Safe Babies Court Team™ directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • The parent-child relationship, mental health problems caused by maltreatment and the experience of removal from their parents’ care and placement with other adults, developmental delays and disabilities, racial equity and historical trauma, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and the intersection with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. 

Parent/Caregiver Services

The Safe Babies Court Team™ directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • The parent-child relationship, mental health problems that impinge on their abilities to safely parent their children, substance abuse, complex trauma, racial equity and historical trauma, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and basic needs: food, shelter, employment, and medical care.
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: Other family/support structures are used such as pre-removal conferences to reduce the trauma of the removal and identify potential caregivers, prioritizing kinship care at the outset of cases, family team meetings, Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP), early intervention screening/services, assisting with parent-child contact (e.g., supervising visits, providing transportation), and identifying services for extended family as needed. Services are targeted to each family's specific needs and offered with respect for the parent's critical role in his/her child's life. Parents are treated with kindness and dignity, no matter the status of their case.

Recommended Intensity:

For family team meetings/court hearings, these occur monthly and length of time varies as needed. For parent/child contact, this should occur at least twice a week for a minimum of 1 hour, but preferably much more often. For sibling contact, this should occur at least once a week for a minimum of 1 hour.

Recommended Duration:

Until permanency is achieved in accordance with federal standards established through the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and the Child and Family Services Reviews conducted by the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Permanency and case closure is estimated to be reached within 12 months after a child is removed from his/her parents' care for reunification or relative custodian to be obtained, or 18 months for adoption or non-relative guardian to be obtained.

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Adoptive Home
  • Birth Family Home
  • Community Agency
  • Foster/Kinship Care
  • Hospital
  • Outpatient Clinic
  • Residential Care Facility
  • School
  • Courtroom
  • Extended Family Home

Homework

The Safe Babies Court Team™ includes a homework component:

Every participant in the monthly family team meetings (FTM) has assignments to complete before the next FTM. For example, the parent might be required to record herself reading a book aloud to her child and give the recording to the foster parent. The foster parent would then be assigned the responsibility of holding the child and turning the pages while the mom’s voice reads the book. The caseworker might be required to arrange three visits for herself and the parent to potential child care providers. One of the attorneys might be assigned the responsibility for filing a motion to permit an extended holiday weekend visit. The ZERO TO THREE Community Coordinator might be assigned to make contact with the Child-Parent Psychotherapy Intake Coordinator.

Languages

The Safe Babies Court Team™ has materials available in a language other than English:

Spanish

For information on which materials are available in this language, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

  • A local agency that hosts a full-time Community Coordinator whose position is funded by a local source of funding that equips her with a laptop computer and support by an information technology provider
  • Space for family team meetings
  • Funding for training consultants, conference participation, and ZERO TO THREE technical assistance

Education and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

Education:

  • Minimum undergraduate degree in child development, social work, or related field
  • Master’s degree preferred

Skills & Experience:

  • Knowledge of local community early childhood services including: early care and education, health, mental health, child welfare, early intervention
  • Ability to work collaboratively with multidisciplinary group
  • Respect for people of all cultures, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds
  • Ability to mediate differences of opinion objectively
  • Knowledge of issues related to child abuse and neglect
  • Knowledge of juvenile and family court functioning
  • Background in infant/early childhood development, young children's mental health, or related field
  • Experience with systems change and community collaboration
  • Ability to work effectively across agencies and disciplines
  • Ability to work independently and effectively with remote supervision
  • Minimum 5 years relevant work experience

Preferred:

  • Knowledge of infant/toddler social-emotional development and impact of abuse and neglect
  • Experience working with juvenile and family court judges

Education and Training Resources

There is a manual that describes how to implement this program , and there is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
Training is obtained:

The Safe Babies Court Team Community Coordinator Academy reflects the awareness that the work of the Community Coordinator is crucial to the success of an SBCT. Strong Community Coordinators have demonstrated expertise in community organizing and a broad knowledge of topics related to the experience of infants and toddlers in foster care. This training experience begins with a face-to-face meeting where participants will receive a high-level overview of the job, with an emphasis on helping trainees do the job when they return home. Subsequent training, offered via webinar, will provide greater depth on the topics identified at the face-to-face training.

The $1,700 registration fee includes:

  • An electronic copy of A Guide to Implementing the Safe Babies Court Team Approach.
  • Introductory in-person training that will include hands-on practice in implementing the SBCT core components, opportunities to learn from local and national experts in the SBCT approach, and membership in the national SBCT learning community.
  • Four follow-up webinars:
o The SBCT Stakeholder Team: Working Democratically to Support System Change
o Race, Poverty, Religion, Sexual Preference: Recognizing and Appreciating Differences
o Recognizing and Addressing the Impact of Alcohol and Drugs on Parents and Children in Safe Babies Court Teams
o Scaffolding for a Healthy Life
  • Monthly Community of Practice Calls over a yearlong period following the training in Des Moines.

Additional training is provided by ZERO TO THREE staff and consultants onsite, via telephone conference, and through participation in national training opportunities. It is provided in stages and to different audiences, depending on the stage:

  • Exploratory- When representatives of a community contact ZERO TO THREE regarding the possibility of establishing an SBCT, the Project Director spends time describing the approach and answering initial questions. After the call, overview materials are provided. Often several follow up conversations (or meetings) take place to expand the circle of local leaders involved in planning. During this phase, funding is secured.
  • National Learning Community- By participating in ZERO TO THREE’s Annual Conference and the SBCT annual Cross Sites meeting, the Community Coordinators, judges, and key members of the Safe Babies Court Teams build a national learning community, sharing information across sites and taking the knowledge back to their own communities to broaden their thinking about how to address local problems.
Number of days/hours:

Flexible, depending on community needs. Because people don’t retain or implement new concepts based on one training session, training is seen as an ongoing interchange between the communities and the SBCT Project over time. Training events are supplemented by coaching that helps the team members incorporate new information into their work.

Implementation Information

Pre-Implementation Materials

There are pre-implementation materials to measure organizational or provider readiness for The Safe Babies Court Team™ as listed below:

Pre-implementation assessments occur at two points. The first occurs when ZERO TO THREE is first contacted by community leaders. ZERO TO THREE considers a community ready to establish a Safe Babies Court Team when there is a judge or child welfare agency leader interested in bringing a Court Team to their community and they have identified funding to support it.

The second pre-implementation assessment occurs when the broader community becomes involved. At this point, the SBCT technical assistance team provides an SBCT 101 webinar to provide the information the community team will need to plan its next steps.

Formal Support for Implementation

There is formal support available for implementation of The Safe Babies Court Team™ as listed below:

The Safe Babies Court Teams Project is sponsored by ZERO TO THREE. To facilitate the work of the local SBCT, ZERO TO THREE has undertaken the development of a national infrastructure to support each SBCT and increase national attention on infants and toddlers in foster care. ZERO TO THREE’s work is summarized in four categories:

  • Project conceptualization
  • Programmatic support
  • Resources for Community Coordinators and Safe Babies Court Teams
  • Building a national learning community

ZERO TO THREE’s leadership of the SBCT resides in the position of the Project Director.

Fidelity Measures

There are fidelity measures for The Safe Babies Court Team™ as listed below:

There is a secure, web-based system protected by an SSI certificate that encrypts all data transmitted from the user’s web browser to the server. The data are maintained on a secure server located at ZERO TO THREE. The Community Coordinator, with training and supervision by the Project Coordinator, is responsible for entering data on every child and parent monitored by the SBCT. Before data is collected, the Community Coordinator reviews informed consent and release of information forms with parents and their attorneys to permit this data collection. Data collected include information on key elements of the project model including frequency of family team meetings and hearings, frequency of visitation, number of placements and so on. Project staff monitors these data to ensure the project is implemented as intended. Lucy Hudson, the SBCT Project Director, can provide a list of the data elements collected and the specific outcome measures pertinent to child well-being that are collected.

Implementation Guides or Manuals

There are implementation guides or manuals for The Safe Babies Court Team™ as listed below:

A Guide to Implementing the Safe Babies Court Team Approach (Hudson, 2017) is available from the ZERO TO THREE Bookstore. The guidebook covers the many lessons learned from implementing the SBCT approach in 20+ communities. In addition, there is a detailed user’s guide for the SBCT database that collects information about the children and families served in each site, which is available with the execution of an SBCT database license. 

Research on How to Implement the Program

Research has not been conducted on how to implement The Safe Babies Court Team™.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

This program is rated a "3 - Promising Research Evidence" on the Scientific Rating Scale based on the published, peer-reviewed research available. The practice must have at least one study utilizing some form of control (e.g., untreated group, placebo group, matched wait list study) establishing the practice's benefit over the placebo, or found it to be comparable to or better than an appropriate comparison practice. Please see the Scientific Rating Scale for more information.

Child Welfare Outcome: Permanency

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, 34,169-178.

Type of Study: Propensity score and competing risks analysis study of existing datasets
Number of Participants: 809

Population:

  • Age — Birth to 3 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Not specified
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were children with an out-of-home placement (supervised by child welfare services) before age three.

Location/Institution: Not specified

Summary: (To include comparison groups, outcomes, measures, notable limitations)
This study uses compared data from children receiving Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT) services to child welfare services as usual, using data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW I) to consider how the Court Teams children exit the child welfare system. SBCT children from the four initial sites are compared to a group of cases from the NSCAW I study. Propensity score weights are combined with a competing risks analysis to isolate program effect on types of foster care exits. Results indicate that SBCT cases experience a different pattern of exits from the foster care system. Reunification is the most common type of exit for SBCT cases (38%) while adoption is the most prevalent for the NSCAW group (41%). Results also suggest that SBCT children exit the foster care system faster regardless of the type of exit and that SBCT children are significantly more likely to exit foster care for reunification, relative custodianship, and non-relative legal guardianship rather than stay in foster care. Limitations include the lack of randomization of subjects to services as usual or SBCT services, a lack of information on re-reports and re-entry in the Court teams sample, lack of control for geographic differences between the two studies, and the multiyear time difference between the studies (the SBCT children entered between 2004 and 2009, while NSCAW I children entered between 1999 and 2000).

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Additional References

Ryznar, T. (2018). Understanding Interdisciplinary Collaboration Within ZERO TO THREE Safe Babies Court Teams (doctoral dissertation). Detroit, MI: Wayne State University.

Casanueva, C., Harris, S., Carr, C., Burfeind, C., Smith, K. (2017). Evaluation report of the Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-toddler Court Teams. http://qicct.org/sites/default/files/QIC-ITCT%20Final%20Evaluation%20Report%202017%20%28Full%20Report%29.compressed.pdf

Hudson, L., Beilke, S., Norris, J., Parker, K., Williams, R. (2017). Safe Babies Court Teams: Collaborative Journeys of Healing and Hope. Zero To Three Journal, 38(2), 12-19.

Contact Information

Jenifer Goldman Fraser, PhD, MPH
Agency/Affiliation: ZERO TO THREE
Website: www.zerotothree.org/resources/services/safe-babies-court-teams
Email:
Phone: (202) 864-2952
Fax: (202) 638-0851

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: September 2018

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: October 2018

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: March 2014