On Wednesday May 22, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and Congressional Baby Caucus sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing on “Supporting Foster Families in the Time of Opioids” The focus of the briefing was infant-toddler court team models that have shown great success in helping families remain together with their infants and toddlers.

The four speakers for the panel included Darneshia Bell, National Program Technical Assistance Specialist, Pauline Green, mother and “graduate” of the program, Judge William Anderson III, Grundy County, Tennessee Juvenile Justice Court, and the Director of the National Infant-Toddler Court Program, Jane Huddleston. Pauline Green has been drug free for five years, after the birth of her baby. She is a parent who was successfully helped through the program. She discussed how she had been drug addicted for 27 years but was shocked into reality when her child was born frail and greatly underweight. She was able to overcome her addiction with the intervention and support of the program. She highlighted the approach and the skills of the team and staff that connected her to services and approached her recovery with a positive and hopeful attitude.

Judge William Anderson discussed the limited services that were available in Grundy County. While he describes the current Court Team system as a wheel with spokes of services, before the programs existed there were a few “spokes” of disconnected services and help in the rural county. As a Judge he can and does work with parents and the child welfare agency and is able to connect the parent to needed services while also encouraging their participation and progress.

The Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT) approach focuses on strategies that allow professionals who interact most directly with families to improve the parents’ and their children’s experience while involved with the child welfare system. The SBCT approach is based on 12 core components:

Judicial leaders, Local community coordinators, Active court team that focus on community responses, Targeting infant and toddlers, Valuing birth parents, Concurrent planning for the infant, Foster parent intervention and support , Pre-removal conferences and monthly team meetings, Frequent family visitation, Mental health services, Technical and training for local programs, and Understanding and evaluating the program and work.

The Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (QIC-CT) oversees the programs. Since 2014 it has received funding through Children’s Bureau. There have also been a series of evaluations that offer strong evidence of reduced recurrence of maltreatment, greater permanency for children, effectiveness in assisting adult parents with high (Adverse Childhood Experiences) ACE’s scores, and cost-effectiveness.

In the House version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations (HR 2740) the program receives an increase to $10 million to support the Infant-Toddler Court Teams. The increase is $7,000,000 above the FY 2019 level. New funds are intended to build on the work established through the Quality Improvement Center for Research-based Infant Toddler Court Teams.