LAURENS, S.C. – South Carolina’s 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Laurens County 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 Sept. 30. It joins Richland 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.
“Laurens County has a substantial problem with drug addiction and poverty and the two problems feed upon each other. They also result in a higher number of children removed from their home and these removals fuel further problems for those parents,” said the Honorable Mindy W. Zimmerman, who will preside over Safe Babies Court cases in Laurens County. “When I learned that Safe Babies Courts has improved outcomes for children and families by reducing the number of contested hearings and continuances, strengthening families by reducing re-entry to the child welfare system and ultimately reducing the adverse childhood experiences they endured, I knew this program warranted attention.”
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 as well as local entities. In Laurens County, Healthy Laurens was created to bring together local organizations like Beyond Abuse and United Way of Laurens County to support families going through Safe Babies Court.
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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