Early childhood is a critical developmental time, setting the foundation for life. When babies and toddlers enter foster care, it is crucial that child welfare system professionals prioritize their developmental needs. 

Best for Babies, a program of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, supports the implementation of the Safe Babies Court Teams Approach, which rallies the court system around the developmental needs of infants and toddlers in foster care. The program has two main objectives: to increase shared knowledge about the needs of infants and toddlers, and to increase community collaboration to improve outcomes for these children. 

In 2022, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded a five-year federal grant to Prevent Child Abuse Arizona (PCAAZ) to expand Best for Babies statewide. The grant provides funding, technical assistance, and evaluation to three county sites to enhance their implementation of the Safe Babies Court Teams Approach. The grant also created a Statewide Leadership team made up of state agency leads, evaluators, and court team experts. This leadership team works to connect the many players in child welfare cases around the Best for Babies approach, and picks professional development opportunities to guide all 15 Arizona Best for Babies counties to enhance their practices. 

In January, representatives from the three selected implementation sites – Coconino, Yavapai, and Yuma – met in Phoenix, joined by ZERO to THREE, PCAAZ, and the Children’s Equity Project (CEP). The CEP is supporting Best for Babies to turn their ‘Disparity Impact Statement’, a plan for advancing equity, into action. 

Jillian Schuldt of Coconino County reflected on her experience at the strategic meeting, “My overall takeaway is the amazing support that we will get through this grant, not just from PCAAZ, ZERO to THREE, and CEP, which is phenomenal, but also support from the other sites. It feels like a family. We’ll support each other through all the ups and downs of this difficult work for the next few years. It gives me hope that change is possible in this system.” 

Elizabeth McMullen, Training and Technical Assistance Specialist with ZERO to THREE, shared, “Because Arizona has been engaged in Best for Babies work for years, there are a spectrum of champions communities and in state-level leadership excited to expand and enhance their practice. The existing network among Community Coordinators serves as a solid foundation, but with HRSA’s invaluable support, the work can blossom at the state level to activate stronger and more aligned teams.”

The statewide efforts from this grant have also provided opportunities for all active court teams in Arizona. “These last two years have been the greatest growth our county has seen,” shared William Tardibuono of Cochise County. “When I started this position five years ago, we had about five or six active members. Now, we have over 30 members at the table, providing different support and services we can provide to families.”

The heart of Best for Babies is to engage partners to better understand and overcome the challenges of parents and children under age 3 in the child protective system. The driving force of the work is the shared motivation to ensure infants and toddlers have safety, stability, and connection, and collaborating to make that possible.

“Our Court Team recognizes the importance of our individual work and that it takes all of us to support families in the best way possible,” said Valerie Silvas of Pinal County. “Working together with understanding, respect, and meaningful collaboration benefits the engagement and outcomes for children and their families. We may be involved with a family for a snapshot of their lives, but we are all a part of the community, and it is to everyone’s benefit to leave a positive impact on a family’s journey.”