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.

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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

mounds

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.

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Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. In this 16-minute TED Talk, pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.

This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. This is an impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.

Horses help kids recover from adverse childhood experiences

ChildWithHorseBackToCamera1Baylie is eight years old. Born to a mother addicted to cocaine and an alcoholic father, removed from her parents at six months and covered with bruises and cigarette burns, Baylie (not her real name) has spent her childhood shuffled from one foster home to another. She rarely speaks, makes little eye contact with adults, shows no interest in playing with kids her age, and recoils from any attempt at physical affection.

Baylie’s ability to connect with anyone, or anything, seemed impossible until the day she met a horse named Steady.

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‘Invisible Scars’ trailer out; documentary is story of healing journey from child sex abuse

Johnna Janis’s documentary about her experiences with child sex abuse and other childhood adversity will be out next year, when she’ll be taking it to film festivals before distributing it.

Although the beginning focus of her story is child sex abuse, it unwinds with many other issues that emerged from her childhood adversity. With Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-founder of the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,  watching, she does her ACE score (a 9, out of 10), and then interviews him. 

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Foster youth intern lands White House internship; working to make foster care trauma-informed

Amnoni Myers takes the stage at the 2014 Angels in Adoption celebration in Washington D.C. [CCAI photo]

Amnoni Myers takes the stage at the 2014 Angels in Adoption celebration in Washington D.C. [CCAI photo]

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By Daniel Heimpel

This fall, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Angels in Adoption celebration.

The event, which draws stars from entertainment and D.C.’s political elite, always fills the cavernous Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, providing a suitable stage for some real heroes.

One of these was Amnoni Myers, a 26-year-old member of CCAI’s 2014 Foster Youth Internship

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San Diego Youth Services embraces a trauma-informed approach; kids do better, staff stay longer, programs more effective

Staff of the San Diego Youth Services TAY Academy welcome all Transition Age Youth (TAY) to drop-in. Left to right: Vanessa Arteaga, Indie Landrum, Stephen Carroll, and Gillian Leal.

Staff of the San Diego Youth Services TAY Academy welcome all Transition Age Youth (TAY) to drop-in. Left to right: Vanessa Arteaga, Indie Landrum, Stephen Carroll, and Gillian Leal.

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In 2010, 16-year-old Indie Landrum ran away from an unstable home where he lived with his mom and his grandmother. His older sister ran away when she was 16, and both of his brothers were incarcerated. Indie sought emergency housing at the San Diego Youth Services (SDYS) Storefront shelter, and lived there for several months before going into a long-term group home.

During his time at Storefront, SDYS began a dramatic transformation: the process of becoming a trauma-informed organization. Basically, that means instead of a staff member angrily asking a youth who’s acting out, “What’s wrong with you?” and punishing the behavior, staff members ask, “What happened to you?” and work with the kid on healing and recovery.

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