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Early Childhood Courts

Background

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

Current Status

ECC has grown from a few sites to 21 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.

An image of Florida and which judges are assigned to each problem solving court

Measuring Success

ZERO TO THREE's Safe Babies Court Teams boast timely permanency and a substantial reduction of re-maltreatment. Permanency can also be referred to as case closure, with the child placed in a permanent home. In Florida, our data show promising preliminary results, particularly in days to permanency.

Read a one-page summary of the Early Childhood Court Outcomes Analysis conducted by the Office of Court Improvement. 

About The Data

The following numbers are based on cases closed during calendar year 2016 for children who were removed from their parents' care due to allegations of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. To assess timely permanency, we measure the time to closure, which is the time from the removal to the time the child's case is closed. Case closure is defined as the termination of supervision. This measure compares groups of children ages 0-3 who were in the ECC program to children ages 0-3 who were not in the ECC program. These comparisons highlight closed cases with the following permanency outcomes: reunification with their parent(s), adoption, and permanent guardianship with a relative or non-relative.

Time to Reunification

The median number of days from removal to reunification for children not in ECC: 537 (2117 children)

The median number of days from removal to reunification for children in ECC: 393 (40 children)

This is a difference of 144 days, meaning the ECC cases were closed almost five months sooner than the non-ECC group.

Time to Adoption

The median number of days from removal to adoption for children not in ECC: 704 (1,731 children)

The median number of days from removal to adoption for children in ECC: 537 (9 children)

This is a difference of 167 days, meaning the ECC cases were closed over five months sooner than the non-ECC group.

Time to Permanent Guardianship

The median number of days from removal to permanent guardianship for children not in ECC: 460 (1053 children)

The median number of days from removal to permanent guardianship for children in ECC: 361 (10 children)

This is a difference of 99 days, meaning the ECC cases were closed over three months sooner than the non-ECC group.

Median number of days from removal to closure (ECC vs non-ECC):

This is a finger graph illustrating the difference in days between ECC and Non-ECC times to closure: reunification, adoption, and permanent guardianship.
*In 2016, there were 565 additional non-ECC children whose cases reached permanency with other types of closure (excluding reunification, adoption or permanent guardianship), such as involuntary dismissal, involuntary dismissal with prejudice, involuntary dismissal without prejudice, pending, relinquished jurisdiction to other state, voluntary dismissal, voluntary dismissal with prejudice, and voluntary dismissal without prejudice.

Number of children for each type of closure outcome (ECC vs non-ECC):

This is a table that compares the numbers of children who closed in ECC, and in Non-ECC in these types: reunification, adoption, and permanent guardianship.

Re-Removal After Case Closure

The percentage of non-ECC children ages 0-3 who were subsequently removed after case closure: 3.86% (211 children/5,466 closures)

The percentage of ECC children who were subsequently removed after case closure: 3.39% (2 children/59 closures)

Well-Being

Children in Early Childhood Court receive child-parent psychotherapy (an evidence-based intervention aimed at healing trauma). Other characteristics of ECC include more frequent visits between children and parents, fewer placement moves, and a continuum of infant mental health and early intervention services.

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/

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.