How It All Began
Florida has a long and impressive history of progressive model court initiatives, pioneering the nation's first drug courts and unified family courts. Likewise, Florida was the birthplace of the nation's first Early Childhood Court, the Miami Child Well-Being Court, which inspired national expansion of Zero to Three's Safe Babies Court Teams.
Building upon these model programs, best practices research, and the compelling science of adversity, Florida has embarked on a collaborative statewide Early Childhood Court initiative.
Florida's Early Childhood Court Initiative began in 2013 when Florida State University's Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy was awarded a federal grant on Trauma & Toxic Stress in HRSA's Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems grants. At the state level, a Trauma Informed Care Workgroup was designated under the Florida's Children & Youth Cabinet to heighten awareness about trauma issues across agencies and systems. A website was created by FSU to showcase trauma informed systems: www.floridatrauma.org including "baby court" which is featured within child welfare.
Two "baby court team pilots" were designated and supported to showcase trauma informed care at the local level. The purpose of the pilots was to establish an integrated system of care addressing trauma and child well-being and to improve outcomes for very young maltreated children involved with the judicial system.
The Circuit 1 Pensacola site has an impressive history of model court initiatives with committed judicial leadership. Their Early Childhood Court docket started in October 2013 in partnership with Lakeview Center, the Community Based Care program, providing both the clinical expertise and funding for the community coordinator. (See detailed description under Florida sites).
Circuit 6 (Pasco County) began in 2014 with strong judicial leadership, widespread community support and a dedicated child parent therapist who has served in the community coordinator role without funding. Lives have been transformed through these pilot initiatives, which have also served as models for other circuits to see in action. (See detailed description under Florida sites).
FSU's role is to spearhead the overall initiative, expand awareness of trauma and toxic stress, create an implementation manual, host monthly calls among key players, facilitate linkages between the early childhood systems and the judiciary, and expand capacity for evidence based interventions to improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, and their families. The success of the pilots along with increased awareness of the science and recognition of the need for improved outcomes has resulted in widespread enthusiasm and statewide expansion of Florida's Early Childhood Initiative.
Florida's Early Childhood Court Initiative Kick-Off Meeting
Officially, "baby court" became Florida's Early Childhood Court Initiative in April 2015 with a statewide kick off summit to support implementation for 22 judges from across the state and 200+ community partners. The summit was a collaborative effort between the Department of Children and Families Office of Child Welfare, Zero to Three, the Office of Court Improvement, FSU, and a multitude of judges, attorneys, community coordinators, infant mental health specialist, case managers and many more. The agenda included dynamic sessions on trauma and attachment, changing the intergenerational cycle of trauma, family time/visitation, financing options for sustainability, in addition to a gap analysis and implementation plan that each site developed. PowerPoints are available.
Office of Court Improvement Florida's Office of Court Improvement has a long and impressive history of progressive model court initiatives, pioneering the nation's first drug courts and unified family courts. A convergence of factors compelled the Office of Court Improvement to adopt "baby court" as a model court initiative - the robust science of early brain development and understanding of the impact of early adversity; the increasing number of young children entering child welfare; the tragedies and need for better outcomes; the impressive outcomes shown by Safe Baby Courts; and input from the judiciary to provide therapeutic jurisprudence and change the trajectory for families in dependency. Florida's Court Improvement team is staffed by attorneys, court analysts, and systems programmers aimed at improving the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and improving outcomes for families involved in the dependency court process. In additional to providing training and technical assistance to dependency judges, magistrates, and court staff, the Court Improvement team has compiled the circuit data and created the Data Tracking System to designed to evaluate the efficacy of the Early Childhood Court Initiative.
Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams
Eleven judiciaries joined together under the leadership of FSU and the Office of Court Improvement to successfully receive a grant in March 2015 from Zero to Three's Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (QIC-CT), the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and RTI International. In addition to training and technical assistance for all participating Early Childhood Court sites, the grant includes an evaluation component, as well as the provision of a Zero to Three statewide, state-level coordinator position to be housed with the Court Improvement Program. Carrie Toy is the statewide coordinator. For more information, see: Children's Bureau and Zero to Three.
Florida Association of Infant Mental Health (FAIMH) FAIMH has been involved with Florida's pioneering efforts since the original baby court initiative began in 2000 - building linkages between infant mental health and the judiciary. For over a decade, FAIMH has been building the infant mental health expertise which today is at the core of baby court. Child Parent Psychotherapy is the core evidence based intervention in baby court, for which FAIMH has worked to expand capacity and professional development, galvanize funding and to share clinical best practices. FAIMH's 2014 Annual Conference brought in national trauma experts and featured a track of national experts on "baby court" and a 2015 "mega-conference" is planned to also showcase best practices in infant mental health. In 2013, FAIMH created a statewide workgroup on "baby court" and are key players in the local community court teams. Monthly calls continue to be held to identify gaps in services, brainstorm strategies, and share best practices. Helping to build Florida's Early Childhood Court Initiative is in alignment with Florida's Strategic Plan for Infant Mental Health which specifies creating a system of care, building a workforce of infant mental health professionals, and expanding the evidence base for interventions for vulnerable young children; and linking infant mental health with systems with vulnerable children and families.