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.