COMMON ELEMENTS OF “BABY COURTS” IN MICHIGAN
“Baby Court” is a specialized docket within the judicial system providing infant mental health services for infants and toddlers under the jurisdiction of the Family Court because of substantiated abuse and/or neglect. "Baby Court” is designed to increase reunification as an outcome and to reduce the time to permanency decisions.
There are currently three “Baby Courts” in Michigan: Midland County, Genesee County and Wayne County. They came into being through the advocacy of then Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan who worked in collaboration with Judge Robert Weiss in Genesee County, Judge Doreen Allen in Midland County, and Judge Mary Beth Kelly in Wayne County to initiate this specialized docket. The “Baby Court” model originated in the Miami-Dade County Court (Florida) through the work of Judge Cindy Lederman and Joy Osofsky, Ph.D., Infant Mental Health Specialist.
The Common Elements, below, are the work of a “learning collaborative” of participants from the three counties and from the Grand Traverse area interested in developing a “Baby Court” which was convened by the Department of Community Health, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration, Services to Children and Families. In order to develop the common elements, the “learning collaborative” reviewed the experiences of the three counties, as well as the literature, and extracted key characteristics of this service model. The implementation of “Baby Court” will vary according to the size of the county. In Midland County (population of 80,000), the judge works in partnership with the Department of Human Services and Community Mental Health for the referral of infants and toddlers under the jurisdiction of the court for substantiated abuse and neglect, while Wayne County has focused their baby court services (initially, at least) to infants and toddlers with adolescent mothers and Genesee Court utilizes a screening process to assess willingness to participate.
The “Common Elements” are being shared with MI-AIMH members to promote conversations across the state around the needs of infant/toddlers and their families in the court system. It is our hope that infant mental health specialists will join with key partners in the courts and child welfare to use this approach to improve outcomes for infants/toddlers and their families.
If you would like further information on the “Common Elements” or want to join the “learning collaborative”, please contact Mary Ludtke, MDCH (firstname.lastname@example.org, or 517-241-5769).
Common Elements of “Baby Courts” in Michigan
“Baby Court” is a specialized court that provides a unique approach to serving infants and toddlers and their families (*1). The “Baby Court” parallels the development of specialized courts for persons with mental health or substance abuse issues or juvenile delinquency issues. Attention to the specific needs of infants/toddlers has been installed in a number of family courts across the country including four in Michigan (*2).
To facilitate integrity of the continuing development of “Baby Court” in Michigan, as well as to facilitate ongoing discussions of the impact of services provided to infants, toddlers and their families in “Baby Court," the following list of common elements was developed:
§ “Baby Court” has a goal of promoting the social emotional health of the infant/toddler. The outcomes of “Baby Court” include:
- Reducing multiple placements in foster care
- Reducing the length of time to permanency decisions
- Accomplishing stable reunification, or
- Accomplishing stable adoption
§ “Baby Court” is developed to serve infants/toddlers under the age of 4, their parents and siblings. The infants/toddlers are under the jurisdiction of the court due to abuse/neglect.
§ “Baby Court” has a Judge with a specialized docket. The Judge has a commitment to “Baby Court.” A team of court personnel will be identified by the Judge (i.e. Guardian ad litem, Children’s Advocates, key Court Administrative personnel).
§ A Steering Committee of key stakeholders includes the Court Judge or designee, representatives of Community Mental Health and Department of Human Services, and may also include the Prosecuting Attorney, or their designees. In addition, it is recommended to include representative of guardians ad litem (GAL), parent(s), foster parent(s), and other community partners. The participants on the Steering Committee are recommended to be decision makers in their own organizations and are catalysts for change.
§ The role of the Steering Committee includes:
- Development of “Baby Court” including (1.) the identification of coordination and service provision and (2.) funding
- Monitor and facilitate the implementation of “Baby Court” including “barrier busting” of issues identified by the Coordinator, agencies and/or key stakeholders
- Ensure adherence to the common elements (fidelity to the model)
- Monitor the outcomes of “Baby Court”
§ “Baby Court” is coordinated and its activities monitored (*3) by a person with expertise in early childhood development. These coordination activities include:
- Participation in the Steering Committee
- Provide infant and early childhood development expertise to the Judge and the Court Team
- Liaison among services to ensure consistency of “Baby Court” model implementation and reduce barriers
- Communicate with the Judge regarding process issues
- Identify eligible families for “Baby Court”
- Facilitate assignment to IMH provider
- Monitor monthly treatment and care coordination team meetings to ensure they are held on a regular basis and necessary participants are in attendance
- Facilitate meeting of key court participants before court session (attorney, DHS, Judge, IMH Coordinator)
- Ensure data collection at a centralized point with a specific set of data points to inform evaluation
- Facilitate education to the community about “Baby Court” and unique needs of the population
§ Infant Mental Health (IMH) Specialists provide services in the home or community setting. IMH Services are provided to parents, infant/toddler, family members, foster parents, caregivers. Because of the intensity of services, reduced caseloads of approximately 5-6 families are recommended. The IMH Specialist is Masters prepared in Social Work, Psychology or Counseling and is endorsed by the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health at Level II or III (*4).
§ The Infant Mental Health treatment model is focused on the whole family system and includes:
- Assessment (*5)
- Parent-Infant Psychotherapy
- Coordination between Service Providers
- Anticipatory/Developmental Guidance, Parent Education
- Emotional Support
- Interconceptional Education
The IMH Specialists work closely with the Foster Care Specialist to support the attainment of:
- Basic Needs
- Addressing the Parent’s Education, Employment
IMH Specialists utilize a “supported visitation” model rather than a “supervised visitation” model. During supported visits, often referred to as therapeutic visits, the IMH Specialist acts as a coach and will do the following:
- Advocate for more frequent visitation between parent and infant/toddler
- Make a contract with the family that grants permission to provide intervention during visits
- Help the parents plan a developmentally appropriate activity and a general routine to be followed at each visit
- Understand and support the feelings and behaviors for both parents and infants/toddlers during separations and reunions
- Provide a nurturing environment to encourage appropriate family play and interaction
- Encourage parents to focus on the present
- Label and acknowledge the emotional responses of parents and infants/toddlers
- Provide developmental guidance
- Remain strength focused
- Meet with the parent(s) after each visit in order to evaluate how the visit went
- Facilitate communication with the foster parent (*6)
§ The DHS Foster Care Specialist is a key member of the Care Coordination Team and integral to the “Baby Court” process. The DHS Foster Care Specialist has a reduced and specialized case load for “Baby Court” to ensure their involvement.
§ Care Coordination Team Meetings are facilitated for each infant/toddler and family to identify successes, obstacles and prepare for court appearances. The team consists of the family and service providers.
§ There is increased frequency of court appearances (monthly or as determined in consultation with Judge) to facilitate continued focus on progress and to support changes needed to address challenges.
§ Ongoing cross training of “Baby Court” staff and key community staff (DHS, private agencies, attorneys, GAL, CASA, Early On, behavioral health, physicians, etc.) is conducted to ensure that all are knowledgeable of their partners’ organizations’ policies, their responsibilities, therapeutic approaches utilized, and the social-emotional development of infants/toddlers.
§ An evaluation of “Baby Court” through collection of specific, agreed upon data is undertaken to ascertain outcomes (above).
§ All infants/toddlers in Child Protective Services/Child Welfare are referred to Part C-Early On® for developmental assessment. The IMH Specialist coordinates with the Part C Coordinator.
For further information, please contact Mary Ludtke, MDCH (Ludtkem@michigan.gov, 517.241.5769)
[*1] Tableman, Betty. Maltreated Infants/Toddlers Treatment Court: A Quick Summary. The Michigan Child Welfare Law Journal, Lansing, MI, Volume XIII, Issue II, Winter 2010.
Safe “Baby Court” Teams: Building Strong Families and Healthy Communities. Zero to Three. Washington, D.C. 2012. Additional materials are available from Zero To Three on “Baby Court”s at www.zerotothree.org
[*2] Wayne, Midland , Grand Traverse and Genesee Counties. In Genesee County, “Baby Court” is known as Infants and Toddlers Treatment Court.
[*3] A person is designated to coordinate the ““Baby Court”” activities. In small counties this may be a member of the Steering Committee.
[*4] The Endorsement and its use to guide service, work force development, the development of university programs and policy can be found in the special November 2009 issue of the Infant Mental Health Journal, Wiley-Blackwell, publisher, Volume 30 (6). Information is also available at http://www.mi-aimh.org/endorsement