Babies and toddlers are the most frequent victims of abuse and neglect in families. Juvenile and Family Court Judges are responsible for the well-being of the children in their courts and can be powerful agents of change. Judges are able not only to order that infants and toddlers receive the services and supports they require, but are also in the unique position of being able to mobilize the public and private resources that can help to meet the needs of these vulnerable children. However, judges can only make good decisions and mobilize the necessary resources for children if they have adequate information. Too often, their decisions are not informed by the science of early childhood development.
They need to have available solutions validated by research for these children.
They also need community partners who share their urgency to take advantage of opportunities for early intervention, when young children first come to the notice of courts.
The Infant Mental Health Team combines that judicial muscle with child development, social service, and mental health community partners so that babies and toddlers are given the attention and life-changing help they need. This pilot program partners juvenile and family court judges with child development specialists to create a team of child welfare and health professionals, child advocates and community leaders to provide services to abused and neglected infants and toddlers to meet young children’s complex needs, swiftly and effectively. This is a systems change initiative, focused on improving how the courts, child welfare agencies, and related child-serving organizations work together, share information, and expedite services for young children.
Along with the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Cemala funded the Infant Mental Health Court Team from 2008 to 2013.
This project has two major goals:
- To increase awareness among all those who work with maltreated infants and toddlers about the negative impact of abuse and neglect on very young children, and
- To change local systems to improve outcomes and prevent future court involvement in the lives of very young children.
These outcomes include:
- Reducing the risk for abuse and neglect among infants and young children in Guilford County
- Improving the immediate child, family, and system outcomes related to infants and young children who present to the courts for abuse, neglect, and/or exposure to domestic violence such as: a) Increased access to and time to receipt of services; b) Increased family reunification; c) Decreased time in foster care/out of home placement; and d) Increased understanding of judges about quality services and interventions for children and families presenting in their courts.
- Improving the long term child, family, and system outcomes related to infants and young children who present to the courts for abuse, neglect, and/or exposure to domestic violence such as: a) Increased percent of services accessed that are evidence-based; b)Improved brain development; c)Improved social-emotional development; d) Improved parenting skills; e) Improved success in school; f)Improved coordination among courts, DSS, and other service agencies/providers; g)Reduction or prevention of future court involvement; and h) Reduction in costs across systems.