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Bill introduced in US House of Representatives to substantially increase "Safe Babies" courts

 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro speaks to students at John Lyman Elementary School, Middlefield, CT

A bipartisan bill (H.R. 7868)—Strengthening America’s Families Act (SAFA)—was introduced Friday, July 30 by lead sponsors Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). The bill provides seed money to states to develop and enhance infant-toddler court teams (ITCTs, aka Safe Babies Court Teams) and authorizes a national resource center to guide state and local programs to develop their program integrity and deliver evidence-based services. This approach is based on the science of childhood adversity and seeks to transform child welfare and family court practices using a family team approach to address reunification and improve permanency outcomes.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)

In a “Dear Colleague” letter (attached) seeking additional co-sponsors for the bill, Reps. DeLauro and Bilirakis placed the need for this legislation in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, citing increased stress and hardship as factors contributing to child abuse. The letter points to the measurable success of these courts:

  • Maltreatment recurs in fewer than 1 percent of ITCT cases, an astonishingly low rate far below the national standard of 9.1 percent;
  • The ITCT approach saves more than $14,000 per child versus a traditional child welfare case;
  • 84 percent of infants and toddlers in the program achieved permanency within a year compared with the national standard of 40.5 percent; and
  • A high rate of substance use disorders, a reason for removal for almost 70 percent of cases, did not hamper outcomes. 74 percent of parents found to need treatment started services within a week of entering the program.

The “Dear Colleague” letter notes that 31 organizations interested in the wellbeing of young children and their families support SAFA. The organizational support letter led by ZERO to THREE outlines the need for Congress to step in and meet the urgent needs of infants and toddlers.  Organizations that signed the letter include the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, Child Welfare League of America, Florida State University Center for Prevention & Early Intervention, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and Prevent Child Abuse Oregon.

The organizations wrote: 

 “SAFA addresses generational trauma by creating an emphasis on parents’ needs as a starting point for building strong families, as well as ensuring babies have access to appropriate health and appropriate developmental supports they need to thrive. SAFA builds on a proven collaborative approach working with family court judges and community-based partners to provide families the tools they need to prevent child abuse and neglect and nurture their children. Few interventions or approaches are available to address the needs of babies in the child welfare system, whose lives are forever changed by their early adverse experiences.”

ZERO to THREE developed the “Safe Babies" court team approach and has advocated for private and government funding for years.  It reports that there are about 100 ITCT sites in 30 states but says that they serve only a fraction of children and families in need.  The states with ITCT sites include:  AK, AR, AZ, CO, CT, DE, FL, HI, IA, IL, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NV, NY, OH, OK, OR, SC, TN, UT, VT, WA, WI.

Other co-sponsors of SAFA include Representatives Tom Suozzi (D-NY), John Rutherford (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), and Greg Steube (R-FL).

The text of (H.R. 7868)—Strengthening America’s Families Act (SAFA)—should be available shortly.  The sign-on letter is still open for organizations to add their support. Click here for the sign-on form as well as links to the letter and supporting materials (including a one-page fact sheet on the bill that is also attached here). If you have questions about the letter, contact Mollyrose Schaffner at Zero to Three (mschaffner@zerotothree.org).  Advocates are encouraged to reach out to their U.S. Representative to urge co-sponsorship of SAFA, both in states where there are sites and where there are no sites.

In early 2015, ACEs Too High posted an article — 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 — that featured courts in Lonoke County, Arkansas using the Zero to Three model, and others in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Pasco County, Florida where Judge Lynn Tepper led reforms. 

Please join ACEs Connection this Friday, August 7 at noon PT/3:00 ET for A Better Normal conversation with now retired Judge Tepper and Dr. Mimi Graham, Director, Florida State University (FSU) Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy, who is a leading advocate for safe baby courts in Florida and nationally. 

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