Early Childhood Courts
Using the National ZERO TO THREE organization’s Safe Babies Court Teams approach and the Miami Child Well-Being model, Florida’s Early Childhood Court (ECC) emerged a little more than 3 years ago. ECC addresses child welfare cases involving children under the age of three. It is a problem-solving court where legal, societal, and individual problems intersect.
In 2015, the Office of Court Improvement received a grant from ZERO TO THREE’s Quality Improvement Center for Research-Based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (QIC-CT), which includes the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and RTI International. In addition to training and technical assistance resources for all participating ECC sites, the grant includes an evaluation component, as well as the provision of a ZERO TO THREE statewide coordinator position, housed within the Office of Court Improvement. Carrie Toy is the statewide coordinator.
Healthy attachment and early brain development, from birth to age three, is crucial to a child's future social-emotional health, school-readiness, and life-long well-being. Infants and toddlers in the child welfare system are at extraordinarily high risk for developmental delays, non-optimal attachment relationships, trauma, and toxic stress that can affect their adjustment and well-being for years to come -- often, tragically, for a lifetime. ECC allows courts to take what is currently known about the appropriate services and practices for early brain development and make them available to the most vulnerable children.
There are fifteen core components in ECC, which include judicial leadership, a community coordinator to facilitate the court team’s activities, monthly court reviews, child-parent psychotherapy, frequent parent-child contact, and the use of family team meetings.
The goals of Florida's ECC are to:
- improve child safety and well-being
- heal trauma and repair the parent/child relationship
- expedite permanency
- stop the intergenerational cycle of abuse/neglect/violence
ECC has grown from a few sites to 18 sites in Florida in just three years, with a period of rapid growth in 2015 and 2016. The partnership between the Office of Court Improvement, Florida State University, and ZERO TO THREE has made it possible for the initiative to expand.
See map below for ECC judges throughout the state.
Publications and Resources
A multitude of publications and resources related to early childhood and ECC are available through FSU’s Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy website: https://cpeip.fsu.edu/
ZERO TO THREE’s Safe Babies Court Teams boasts a substantial reduction of re-maltreatment and an expedited rate of permanency. In Florida, our data show similar preliminary results, particularly in days to permanency.
- Per Florida’s Dependency Court Information System (FDCIS), in 2015, the median number of days from removal to reunification for children 0-3 in out-of-home care statewide was 280 days compared to 212 days for children in ECC. This is 68 fewer days, a little more than 2 months less time to reunification for ECC children.
- The median number of days from removal to closure, or permanency, (which is usually six months post reunification or adoption) statewide was 518 days compared to 360 days for children in ECC. This is 158 fewer days, or approximately 5 months less time to closure for ECC children.
- In 2015, of the 2,328 children ages 0-3 in out of home care, a median number of 81 children have been re-removed after the case was closed. To date, two children out of the 300 children in ECC have been re-removed after their case was closed.
- Children in ECC receive Child-Parent Psychotherapy (an evidence-based intervention aimed at healing trauma), frequent visits with their parents, fewer placement moves, and a continuum of infant mental health services. Although specific data is not yet available, we hope to measure and show outcomes for well-being in 2017.
Florida Supreme Court Governance Groups
The Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court works to establish a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to handling all cases involving children and families. The steering committee is charged with assisting the statewide multidisciplinary dependency court improvement panel – the panel that oversees ECC implementation.