Best For Babies
Nationally, infants and toddlers are the fastest growing population in the child welfare system. They are twice as likely to enter foster care as children over four years of age. Infants and toddlers stay in the system almost twice as long as older children. This appears to be both the result of the higher incidence of maltreatment in children under three (3-5 times that of older children) and the vulnerability of the age group. [Wulczyn, F, Hislop, K. and Jones Harden, B., Infant Mental Health Journal, “The placement of infants in foster care,” 2002.]
Tragically, children under the age of three are significantly more likely to die as the result of maltreatment than older children. A federal report issued in 2004 found that children under three years represented 76% of all child deaths from maltreatment. [Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities: Statistics and Interventions, retrieved from http:nccanch.hhs.gov, National Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect Information, 2004.]
While more than half of these young children suffer from serious physical health problems and developmental delays, fewer than one in ten currently receive developmental intervention. More than a third are not fully immunized.
Abuse and neglect in the early years can have permanent, devastating effects if not addressed in early childhood. While Best for Babies has made headway, there continues to be significant misconceptions about the needs of infants and toddlers in foster care. Often thought to be the easiest children to care for and place in permanent homes, infants in foster care face far greater risks to their early development and future health than older children. The vast majority of maltreated infants (80%) are prenatally exposed to maternal substance abuse, and forty percent are born at low birth weights, increasing the likelihood of chronic medical conditions, developmental delay, and/or disability.
Multiple placements for young children in foster care have been common, inhibiting young children’s ability to form emotional attachments. [Dicker, Sheryl and Elysa Gordon, “Ensuring the Healthy Development of Infants in Foster Care: A Guide for Judges, Advocates and Child Welfare Professionals,” ABA Center for Children and the Law; ZERO TO THREE National Center or Infants and Toddlers, January 2004.]
The unique and immediate needs of infants and toddlers in the child welfare system are often overlooked, since the focus of ongoing services is likely to be on the more visible legal and mental health issues of their biological parents.
In the last year, sixty children under the age of three were removed from their biological parents and placed in foster care in West Yavapai County. This represents almost one third of all children in foster care in Prescott and the surrounding communities. [Esther Brohner, Director, Yavapai CASA Program, personal communication, 2007.]
While there are multiple services available to these young children when they enter care, services are not always coordinated, well understood, or consistently utilized. Reviews of Child Protective Services (CPS) case files of babies in care have often shown a pattern of a lack of follow-through with critical health and developmental services. As long as a young child was placed in a foster home, the assumption was “the baby is fine.”
In other words, during the most rapid and significant period of growth and development in the human life span, the multiple health, developmental and emotional needs of young children who were maltreated and then separated from their parents went unrecognized and unaddressed. This is changing in Yavapai County as a result of the Best for Babies project. However, there is more to do to assure that best practices become procedures and routines.