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September/October 2016Vol. 17, No. 7Needs of Infants in Child Abuse and Neglect Court Cases

A new court-based program designed to improve outcomes for infants in child abuse proceedings has issued an initial report indicating early positive results and including recommendations for improvement. The Strong Starts Court Initiative, launched in June 2015 by the Center for Court Innovation in the Bronx Family Court, aims to help reduce the negative impacts that infants and very young children experience as a result of child welfare proceedings.

The Strong Starts initiative has four goals:

  • To develop a specialized court approach that will increase the court's ability to help children age 3 years and younger and their families who are involved with the Bronx Family Court
  • To assess and understand the court-related needs of infants and children under age 3 and their families
  • To improve service delivery to this highly vulnerable population
  • To help reunite court-involved infants or very young children and their families

The program model includes a dedicated presiding judge in the Bronx Family Court who oversees eligible cases, which include child abuse and neglect cases in the very early stages—before the fact-finding and dispositional hearings—and involve at least one child 3 years old or younger. Cases can be referred by either the presiding judge or an attorney on the case. Cases where there are older siblings involved are not eligible. The Strong Starts program is staffed by one full-time coordinator who works with clients and all involved parties. The program engages clients in comprehensive screenings and assessments, individual and family case management, community-based referrals for children and adults, and monthly court appearances.

Parents involved with the initiative reported that their court cases were handled fairly; that the Strong Starts coordinator was a welcome advocate for both themselves and their children; and that they received a range of referrals for jobs, parenting, mental health, substance use, early intervention for children, and medical needs.

The following are among the report's recommendations:

  • An administrative database should be established to evaluate program success.
  • Formal program protocols need to be developed to address client noncompliance and promote consistency.
  • Dedicated attorneys and service providers should be assigned in addition to the dedicated judge.
  • Client and stakeholder feedback should be solicited.

Read Meeting the Needs of Infants in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases—A Process Evaluation of the Strong Starts Court Initiative at (482 KB).