• In Safe Babies Courts, 99% of kids don’t suffer more abuse — but less than 1% of U.S. family courts are Safe Babies Courts

    "Prayer Time in the Nursery--Five Points House of Industry" by Jacob Riis. Residential nursery 1888.

    “Prayer Time in the Nursery–Five Points House of Industry” by Jacob Riis. Residential nursery 1888.


    The dirty little secret about family courts – where kids and parents who’ve entered the child welfare system end up – is that they often make things worse, especially for the youngest children — from newborns to five-year-olds.

    It’s not intentional – child welfare systems and family courts were set up to help children and their families. But traditional family courts can further traumatize kids already suffering from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) by moving them from one foster care home to another, by rarely letting them see their parents (if parents are willing and able), or by leaving them to languish in foster care limbo for years before finding them a permanent home. All this contributes to these children developing chronic diseases when they’re adults, as well as mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.

    It was decades of research that shows unequivocally how toxic stress caused by adversity does long-term damage to children’s brains and bodies that inspired the creation of courts specifically focused on early childhood cases, some of which are known as Safe Babies Courts, about a decade ago. Such courts are one type of problem-solving courts, which focus on a specific population like veterans, the homeless, people with mental illness and people addicted to drugs or alcohol.

    The judges in early childhood courts who have learned about this science of childhood adversity have turned their courts upside down and inside out – sometimes dragging along reluctant child welfare workers and attorneys – to show that a radical new approach that integrates relationships and caring into the court system can actually, truly make things better.

    As early data demonstrates, compared to those in traditional family court, infants and toddlers…

    • end up in a permanent family two to three times faster,
    • they leave foster care a year earlier,
    • they end up with their own family nearly twice as often.

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  • Weathered by my high ACE score


    1. We are knee deep in one of the worst winters in history. When the winds pummel my house and the ocean flows through my basement, what am I thinking is: “I’m so glad I have flood insurance.”  What I am feeling is help. I scaredI want my mommy. I need a daddy.

    It’s hard to admit as a middle-aged woman (and feminist) how much the idea of rescue appeals. I have decades of experiential knowing that wishing is futile.

    I know my craving for the present, stable and loving parents I never had is like wanting to snort, stab a needle, drink too much or inhale food. I know not to dive into the craving but I can’t pretend desire is gone.

    It comes and comes back. Always. Even when it goes away it returns. Usually when I’m tired, sick or afraid.


    2. I live in a small cottage near the ocean. It’s my sanctuary. I’ve lived here for 15 years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere. After my divorce, I learned to manage solo – emotionally, financially and even practically. The pilot light doesn’t scare me. I have a snow thrower and even installed a motion detector light by my porch. I got a new roof, a dog and a cat, and didn’t consult a soul. I’m a grown-up.

    Still, when my tween is an adult I want her to have a singular image of home. I want it to be a feeling of being safe and loved that comes with an actual street address. This one.

    As a child, I moved often. My mother married three times. Houses changed. Schools changed. Even the men we called “Dad” changed.

    Childhood was a train ride that moved at dizzying speed. I didn’t control the brakes or have my hand on the wheel.

    I don’t want my daughter to feel she is running, on the run or in danger of being run over. She deserves stability. A garden. A hammock. Solid ground.

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