What does this project do?
Best for Babies improves outcomes for maltreated infants and toddlers in Arizona through judicial leadership and community collaboration. With stakeholders from early intervention, public health, mental health, as well as specially trained CASA volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates), cases involving young children birth to three benefit from increased judicial oversight, increased knowledge of the unique needs of young children exposed to trauma, and collaboration between child welfare service providers to help thousands of young, vulnerable children heal and thrive while in out of home care.
Who does it reach?
In Arizona, as well as nationally, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers make up the largest age group in the child welfare system (Williams, 2020). They are twice as likely to enter foster care as children over five years of age. Infants and toddlers are far more vulnerable than older children. They also experience unique developmental consequences due to unstable environments (Harvard, 2017). Abuse and neglect in the early years can have permanent, devastating effects if not addressed in the first few years of life (Harvard, 2017).
While Best for Babies has made measurable headway in improving outcomes for this group of children in Arizona, there continues to be misconceptions about the critical needs of infants and toddlers in foster care. Often thought to be the easiest children to care for once placed in foster 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 weight, increasing the likelihood of behavioral problems, chronic health conditions, and developmental delays. Unfortunately, while the population of infants and toddlers in foster care is rapidly increasing and often the most vulnerable, their unique and immediate needs are often overlooked (Fischer, Rosinsky, Jordan, Haas, & Seok, 2020).
What are the goals?
- To increase shared knowledge of the unique needs of maltreated infants and toddlers
- To increase community collaboration in the child welfare system to improve outcomes
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 the more visible legal and mental health issues of their birth parents. While there are resources available to help these young children when they enter foster care, services are not always coordinated, well understood, consistently utilized, or provided promptly. Rarely do foster parents have information about the specific needs of the infant they are caring for, nor can they easily get support and guidance when behavioral challenges occur. In other words, during the most rapid and significant period of growth and development in the human life span, the unique health, developmental and emotional needs of young children who were maltreated and then separated from their parents, have often gone unrecognized and unaddressed. These conditions are changing in Arizona as a result of the Best for Babies project.
Fischer, M., Rosinsky, K., Jordan, E., Haas, M., & Seok, D. (2020). States can improve supports for infants and toddlers who are in or at risk of entering foster care. Zero to Three. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/services/the-safe-babies-court-team-approach
Harvard University. (2017, February 2). Neglect. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/neglect/.
Williams, S. (2020, October 28). State-level data for understanding child welfare in the United States. Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/publications/state-level-data-for-understanding-child-welfare-in-the-united-states.