Early Childhood Court

Early Childhood Court is a statewide systems change initiative focused on improving how the dependency courts, child welfare agency and local community partner organizations work together, share information, and expedite services for young children. ECC circuits across the State are led by judges who place a strong emphasis on addressing the unique challenges faced by infants/toddlers.

Baby courtTogether with the Unified Family Court in Pinellas County and over a dozen community partners collaborating to minimize traumatization of infants and young children removed from their families (with the objective of reunification), the Family Study Center is contributing expertise on coparenting and infant-family mental health to the piloting of an Early Childhood Court (ECC). The ECC is designed to help approach the out-of-home placement through the child’s eyes, and to maximize the likelihood that a strong and positive coparenting alliance between biological and foster parents is made possible, beginning in the earliest days after removal. The ECC’s core components are modeled after other successful national Court Team models, with the best practice child-centered, coparenting focus standing as a signature innovation of the Pinellas Court. The initiative has successfully increased awareness of professionals in the child welfare system regarding the causes and effects of trauma on infants and toddlers. Its prime objective is inspiring enduring change of existing local systems to improve outcomes for the families of such children.

The Family Study Center, which previously partnered with the Pasco County Dependency Court on development and implementation of its Early Childhood Court, has provided trainings and webinars for diverse audiences including case managers, guardians ad litem, foster parents, licensing specialists, attorneys and members of the judiciary. The focus has been on proper implementation of a successful coparenting model; the Family Study Center also provides resources, encourages collaboration between existing community service providers, and provides training opportunities for area mental health professionals in the Child-Parent Psychotherapy model that helps re-establish positive bonds between families and children. Objectives during the time of placement include increasing parent-child contact, regularity of communication between all parties on behalf of the infant or young child, trauma-informed and quality child care for those children whose foster parents work, placement stability and timely permanency. Links to Webinars developed for the Quality Parenting initiative on various facets of this initiative can be accessed elsewhere on the Family Study Center site.