September 2004Vol. 5, No. 7Supporting Infants in Foster Care
Acting on the knowledge that infants are the largest group of children to enter the child welfare system, the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children spearheaded a unique collaboration among the courts, the child welfare system, and service providers. These groups worked together to radically redirect the focus of the court process onto the health and well-being of infants in foster care. The result of this collaboration was the Babies Can't Wait Initiative, created in February 2001 and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Babies Can't Wait was initially implemented in the Bronx Family Court. Early activities around this initiative involved identifying the needs of infants in foster care and linking them to services, as well as supporting caregivers' needs and enhancing potential for permanency. There were five components of the Babies Can't Wait Initiative:
- Bringing together stakeholders, including judges, experts in the field of infant development and health, the Bronx Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) project, and the New York City Administration for Children's Services.
- Capitalizing on judicial leadership to promote a problem-solving model of judging and to bring attention to the health and welfare needs of infants.
- Building a knowledge base about the needs of infants through a training series for court and child welfare professionals.
- Creating opportunities for collaboration, including the formation of an advisory group that included court representatives, child welfare professionals, and child development experts.
- Accumulating data to identify and refine project emphases and training needs.
A key product of the initiative was the development of an Infant Checklist to help track risk factors in infants who entered the child welfare system. In the Bronx Family Court, the checklist was used to review immunization status and make court referrals to early intervention programs.
The implementation of the Babies Can't Wait Initiative in the Bronx had a number of positive results, the most prominent of which was the increased communication among the court, child welfare professionals, and child development experts. The increased communication was accompanied by increased morale among court professionals, a stronger focus for the Bronx CASA program, and new guidelines to be used in placing infants with no siblings into foster care. In addition, as judges, lawyers, and child welfare staff became more aware of the developmental needs of infants, they began to consider caregiver capacity issues when making placement recommendations and to revise concurrent planning to emphasize appropriate first placements for infants.
The impact of the Babies Can't Wait Initiative also spread beyond the Bronx. Several other New York counties have begun to use the Infant Checklist, the training curriculum, and the collaboration model. The initiative also has been presented at several national conferences.
The full story of the Babies Can't Wait Initiative can be found in "Building Bridges for Babies in Foster Care: The Babies Can't Wait Initiative" in the spring 2004 issue of the Juvenile and Family Court Journal at http://www.isc.idaho.gov/cp/docs/Building%20Bridges%20for%20Babies%20in%20Foster%20Care.pdf (PDF - 170 KB).
Read more about the issue of infants in foster care in "Researchers Study Infants Who Reenter Child Welfare System" in the November 2000 issue of Children's Bureau Express.