By Marlana Ward
Children go through the country’s court system as victims of neglect, abuse, or other situations daily, which lead to court intervention and placement. As the need for court involvement with families continues, some states and counties are taking steps to combat the cycle of neglect through new programs and initiatives. The US Department of Health and Human Services offers the following statistics regarding children in the country’s court system.
According to health officials, every six minutes an infant or toddler is removed from their parents’ care in the US due to neglect or abuse making it the largest age group of children that have been maltreated at 28 percent aged three years or younger. Tennessee’s occurrence of infant and toddler aged, maltreated children are even higher at 31-35 percent. Johnson County is taking steps to combat these numbers and will soon be one of only a few counties in the nation to offer the Safe Babies Court program. The program will seek to help families who enter the county’s court system due to drugs, neglect, or abuse has a safe, familiar place to work together for the benefit of the children.
The Safe Babies Court program will be funded by a $250,000 grant. The grant allows the employment of one full-time officer to assist local families. Johnson County’s officer will be Youth Services Officer Cole Gladden. “We are very excited that Department of Children’s services approached us about the grant,” Gladden shared. “The grant is to start a Safe Babies Court program which will be a division of the Johnson County Juvenile court that deals with Infants and Families of dependency and neglect.”
The Safe Babies Court program is based upon the Zero to Three model, which focuses on childhood development during the formative, early years. The twelve core components the program uses are: Judicial Leadership; Local Community Coordinator; Active Court Team focused on the Big Picture; Targeting Infants and Toddlers in Out-of-Home Care/ Under the Court’s Jurisdiction; Valuing Birth Parents; Placement and Concurrent Planning; The Foster Parent Intervention; Pre-Removal Conferences and Monthly Family Team Meetings; Parent-Child Contact; Continuum of Mental Health Services; Training and Technical Assistance; and Understanding the Impact of Our Work.
According to the Zero to Three website (www.zerotothree.org), using the twelve components will help the court system address multiple areas of concern and better help children and families who find themselves in the court system.
The site states: “Carried across all 12 core components is the SBCT aspiration to address the poverty, trauma, and racism that most of our families confront. Every one of the 12 core components contributes to our racial equity and human dignity platform.”
Addressing not only the child who is currently in the system but also the parents’ upbringing and lifestyle, which led to the situation that is important to end the cycles of neglect.
Zero to Three also explains: “The families served by SBCTs 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.”By having a constant, dedicated space to operate in and a full-time youth officer, the Safe Baby Court program can provide stability in uncertain times.
“One of the goals of the court is to give infants a safe and nurturing environment to grow and thrive in, with familiar sounds, smells, and people,” shared Gladden. “We also want to reduce the recurrence of maltreatment of children, reduce the number of adverse childhood experiences for the children, and address generational trauma for the families and children as well as prevent future court involvement in the lives of families and children.”
Gladden added that the limited number of communities seeing success across the nation led to the implementation of the Safe Baby Court program.“The national standard of maltreatment recurrences is at 9.1 percent over 12 months,” Gladden she said. “With the Safe Babies Court Team approach measured over 12 months and among 251 children across participating sites, it was reduced to 1.2 percent.”
The court system will not be the only entity involved in the care of the families throughout the program. “The court team will work with DCS, Mental Health providers, foster parents, birth parents and local community partners to give the children their safest, best chance at a good start,” said Gladden.Setting out to make positive changes in the families participating in the Safe Babies Court program is something that the community can affect and equip.
“We will be looking for community partners to help with the various task that may include help with transportation, visitations, and supplies for the children,” Gladden said. “The program works a lot on the concept of it take a village to raise a child. We will be holding a meeting shortly for organizations, businesses or individuals that would like to be apart in the program.” Those wishing to learn more about the program and ways to help may contact Office Cole Gladden with the Johnson County Juvenile Court by calling 423-727-9486.