COPPELL, Texas, July 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Infants and toddlers make up the largest age group in the child welfare system, and in Texas, 39% of the victims of child abuse and neglect are under age 3. To combat the issue, the Meadows Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to First3Years to roll out an initiative that will directly impact up to 30 families by ensuring policies that guide the movement of infants and toddlers in the child welfare system are developmentally informed. Funding will also support training and technical assistance for an estimated 100 professionals in Tarrant County.
"The first three years of life are crucial in terms of brain development," said Sadie Funk, Executive Director of First3Years. "Infants and toddlers in the child welfare system are more likely to experience delays in emotional, cognitive and social development and are less likely to be screened for developmental problems. With this effort, our goal is build a comprehensive, systematic model that lessens the impact of abuse and neglect, enables better immediate outcomes for infants and toddlers in the child welfare system and also provides a more stable foundation for their future life success."
The initiative, called Safe Babies Tarrant County, is based on the Safe Baby Court program which has been successfully implemented at the state level in California, Arizona and Florida and in numerous counties across the country, including Fort Bend and Harris counties in Texas. The generous Meadows Foundation grant will allow for the planning, coordination and technical assistance needed to implement a Safe Baby Court model in Tarrant County and support the work of others already in process.
Specifically, the funding will ensure that up to 10 families will be provided comprehensive health services, including screening for developmental delays as well as medical and dental care referrals. Parents will also be assigned independent case managers to help navigate the system and access services, to educate them on their responsibilities to Child Protective Services, to support coparenting between foster and birth parents and to help reduce the trauma for the entire family. In addition, 20 families will be enrolled in a parenting coaching model, known as ABC-V, which is designed to help parents provide nurturing care. First3Years will also provide training and education for an estimated 100 professionals including foster parents, Child Protective Services employees, judges, lawyers, case managers, Court Appointed Special Advocates and others on the relationship between health, early brain development, attachment, placement and safety.
"We are proud to support First3Years' activities to create a Safe Baby Court in Tarrant County for very young children in foster care," states Bruce Esterline, Senior Vice-President for Strategic Initiatives and Grants. "Studies have shown that Safe Baby Courts are effective in protecting young children from further maltreatment and enhancing their placement in a forever home. We hope this effort will encourage other cities to develop similar courts that will provide better outcomes for these very vulnerable babies and toddlers."
Independent evaluations of Safe Baby Court model in other locations have shown that after implementation, more than 99% of the children served were protected from further maltreatment. Children moved through the welfare system in the Safe Baby Court model exited foster care 2-3 times faster, and 97% of the children served were provided developmental screenings and pediatric checkups.
Collaborative partners involved in the Safe Babies Initiative of Tarrant County include the 323rd District Court, the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Child Protective Services (CPS), ACH Child and Family Services: Our Community Our Kids, Early Childhood Intervention Services and Challenge Tarrant County.
"I have been involved in the legal and child welfare system for over 30 years, and I have seen firsthand how children and their families can be lost in the system without adequate resources and guidance," said Judge Ellen Smith of the 323rd District Court. "Our court is honored to work with First3Years and our partners in a united effort to provide crucial support for families involved in CPS cases. We hope to change the trajectory of these young children's lives."
First3Years hopes the Safe Babies of Tarrant County Initiative will provide additional evidence of the efficacy of the Safe Baby Court program, thus leading to additional interest and engagement across the state. "This collaborative initiative brings together various stakeholders dedicated to creating a better working system for children in the child welfare system in Tarrant County," said Sadie Funk. "Ideally, we would like for this model to become the standard of care for all infants and toddlers in Tarrant County's child welfare system. With the Meadows Foundation's substantial initial investment, we have more than half of the funding we need to get to work and achieve our objectives in transforming how we address child welfare thus changing the lives."
First3Years is the only statewide organization focused on supporting healthy social emotional development of infants and toddlers through education, advocacy and collaborative partnerships. With more than 35 years of experience, First3Years is the infant mental health association of Texas. Programs at First3Years are designed to build awareness of the first three years of life, enhance the quality of relationships between infants/toddlers and their caregivers and educate professionals in best practices. For more information, visit www.first3yearstx.org.