SAFE BABIES COURT TEAM
By Lou Ann Gibson
May 23, 2019
NOT OUR NORMAL: The environment PCCT children and families experience is not something most of us think about on a daily basis. The primary take away I have from my service on the PCCT Board has been a much deeper awareness of the chronic struggles of these children and families without intervention. This awareness became especially pronounced when I became the Ambassador for the Safe Babies Court Team (SBCT). Through this experience I have been able to observe the struggles and hear these families’ stories. Where obstacles that appear small to us, like an $8 drug test a mother needs to prove her sobriety are huge to these families trying to be reunified with their children.
For those of you who don’t know, this is a pilot initiated by PCCT in 2015 following a model created by the national Zero to Three non-profit organization. This model has at its core to reduce the amount of time and number of placements these young children experience after being removed from their parents until a permanent solution can be provided. In about 33 months the SBCT has served 42 families, impacting the lives of 55 children with results far exceeding a traditional process.
Why is this so important? The mental impact to maltreated infants and toddlers who have these toxic early experiences can damage the developing architecture of their brain. Early intervention and a safe/nurturing environment can help a child overcome the negative effects of early trauma. Moving children from placement to placement is traumatic and creates a lack of consistency and continuity, resulting in failure to form trust and attachment. Chronic stress, fear and danger experienced by these young children can lead to long term behavior issues.
How do they accomplish this? Previously professionals in this area felt isolated and frustrated by how much needed to be done and how little they could do on their own. SBCT is a collaboration of judges and attorneys, child welfare workers, health care professionals and community agencies who come together to bring resources, find pathways to goals and bring hope to each of these situations. These children and families are provided with the best resources our community has to offer in order to accomplish the most and move these children to a permanent solution in an earlier timeline, whether it be reunification or adoption. Time in care has been reduced from 21 months to 15 months. In 77 percent of the SBCT cases the first placement for the child was their permanent placement. All of these children receive health and developmental screenings and are provided much needed services. The families, both biological and foster, are provided with resources to overcome issues that have been or are being experienced.
They are uniquely supported and encouraged by a team of passionate and caring professionals who want what is best and bring everything at their disposal to remove obstacles and provide opportunities for success. Family Team Meetings happen monthly where the biological and foster care families are invited to meet with the team to discuss progress, road blocks, opportunities and next steps. I was able to observe one of these meetings and was overwhelmed by the positive and encouraging environment, as well as the problem solving initiated by the team members.
I was also able to observe a monthly meeting the SBCT collaborators or a Stakeholders Meetings where they discuss larger more chronic issues in the lives of these families. Places where systems are breaking down and how the team can work together and with other agencies, courts and law enforcement to resolve issues that keep children and families from moving forward to better situations.
The Tulsa community is fortunate that a group of interested funders saw the benefits of this process and are so excited about the outcomes that there are plans to expand the program to support twice the families in 2019 and hopefully even more in the future.
Providing children opportunities to be raised in a safe and nurturing environment gives them the chance to have a better normal – a normal like each of us are fortunate enough to have.