COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina’s 5th Judicial Circuit Court is now accepting referrals from the South Carolina Department of Social Services for its Safe Babies Court and could begin hearing cases as soon as Oct. 22. It joins Laurens County as the first counties in the state to implement the Safe Babies Court Team™ approach, a progressive model for handling child maltreatment cases that result in a child under three years of age being removed from the home.
Children under the age of three years are the most vulnerable to child abuse and neglect, with an infant or toddler removed from their home somewhere in the U.S. every six minutes. Babies and toddlers represent the largest group of children entering the child welfare system with numbers growing steadily.
The Safe Babies Court Team™ model assembles a team of professionals across sectors that come together in partnership to engage in collaborative and proactive work. Frequent review hearings allow the judge to provide close oversight of the progress on the case. The judge, community coordinator and family team ensure that child and family needs are systematically and fully identified as early as possible in the case process and referrals are made in a highly individualized way to address specific needs with effective services and interventions.
“The Safe Babies Court Team™ approach is different from the traditional child welfare court in that it approaches family work with a consistent point of contact throughout the entire process,” said South Carolina Infant Mental Health Association’s Safe Babies Court Statewide Coordinator Sharleta Woodall. “The families experience a collaborative approach where parents are valued members of planning for their child’s future.”
There are currently 103 Safe Babies Court sites in 29 states across the nation. South Carolina Infant Mental Health Association (SCIMHA) has led the implementation of Safe Babies Court in South Carolina after receiving a federal grant from ZERO TO THREE. It has partnered with statewide agencies like SC Department of Social Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Children’s Advocacy as well as local children’s advocacy centers like Metropolitan Children’s Advocacy Center in Columbia to implement it.
“I hope that through Safe Babies Court, we realize that the level of attention given to these cases can and should be afforded to all cases,” said the Honorable Michelle M, Hurley, who will preside over Safe Babies Court cases in Richland County. “I believe it takes a village to help parents and when a parent receives the appropriate services and feels supported, the parent is motivated to do what is necessary for a successful outcome.”
The Safe Babies Court Team™ approach has proved successful in reducing the amount of time children spend in foster care, with children exiting the foster care system approximately eight months earlier than in traditional welfare. More than 99 percent of children experience no recurrence of maltreatment within 12 months. These outcomes were the same regardless of ethnicity and race, suggesting the Safe Babies Court Team™ approach can close significant gaps in outcomes for families of color in the current child welfare system.
Laurens and Richland counties are the first in the state to begin accepting referrals for Safe Babies Court cases, while Orangeburg and Spartanburg counties are also working to establish Safe Babies Courts. Learn more at scimha.org/SafeBabies-Court.
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