Child Welfare Reform

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Maricopa County and its court system have come up with a new plan to deal with infants and toddlers who go through the child welfare system. The new system strives to help the parents of infants and toddlers with parenting skills and make sure that the babies receive the care they need. Judge Aimee Anderson will discuss the new “Cradle 2 Crayons Child Welfare Center.”

Ted Simons: Maricopa county's juvenile court system is working with cps and mental health care partners to improve the welfare of infants and toddlers and the county's child welfare system. The result is cradles to crayons, a program that expedites case processing and mandates that each child's needs are assessed and treated. And here to talk about cradles to crayons or c2c is maricopa county juvenile Justice judge Aimee Anderson. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.

Aimee Anderson: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Is cradles to crayon a program and a center?

Aimee Anderson: It is, actually, the name for our baby courts within our juvenile court here in maricopa county. And it is the name of a child welfare center that we have started here in maricopa county. So it's a judicial program, and it's a child welfare center.

Ted Simons: I have heard this program and the welfare center, if you will, revolutionized the, the care and the wellbeing of infants and toddlers, true?

Aimee Anderson: I would like to think so. Yes, it has. Well, we started in July of 2011, and knowing a couple of things. That infants and toddlers throughout the world are the most vulnerable population in the child welfare systems. We also knew that the rates of incoming dependency cases continue to escalate. The numbers keep doubling every year. And we need to do a better job as a community to address the needs of this vulnerable population and get them permanency. So, in July of 2011, here in maricopa county, we started the cradle to crayon program within the court system. And that started with, with the judicial leadership.

Ted Simons: And the problems, babies were winding up in a lot of different homes, emotional needs, nurturing needs were untreated. And it sounds like there was, and probably still is, a problem of lack of parental bonding.

Aimee Anderson: Correct. Most of the parents who come into the child welfare system didn't have very good role models themselves. And so, the services that have typically been in place were parent AIDS to supervised visitation. They might be able to supervise your visit with your child or my visit with mine. But, for parents who didn't have good role model, just supervising a visit with a child is not enough. They need to have that coaching, and instruction along the way to have healthy interactions with their children.

Ted Simons: And so, and again the many different homes, aspect of bouncing a baby, that's not a good thing, either.

Aimee Anderson: No, and the research is clear that the more moves that child has, especially in the early developmental years of their life, are damaging to the children. And so, if we can do better job as a system to identify good, secure, and homes for these children, whether it's with a relative or a close family friend, for a good, secure foster placement, who would be there if the case for unification is not possible to provide that forever home?

Ted Simons: And the changes include a faster case processing as I mentioned, and each child assessed and treated. These don't sound like revolutionary changes. Was it not happening before?

Aimee Anderson: It was not as far as good, solid, meaningful screenings, assessments, referrals and treatment for care. And I'm going tell, this has taken a whole community to come together. Child protective services, maricopa county, the board of supervisors, our behavioral health systems, these are not folks that you hear coming together. Everybody has come together, and because we have all been learning more about the needs of the population and getting these assessments done up front and getting them into appropriate treatment.

Ted Simons: And it sounds like judges now working direct with case workers and providers? Was that happening before?

Aimee Anderson: We would see them but not often enough, and that's where the court really needed to step up and take the, the lead here, and push. And I'm going to tell, ip pushed parents, I pushed case managers, and every day. And to get better outcomes. So, instead of seeing these families, with, within every six months, we're seeing these families every six to eight weeks. So, we ensure that the services that are being identified are put in place. And then we do our, our, with the parents, saying it is your responsibility to follow up and engage in these services because that, that clock is ticking, which is the critical aspect of the population of children.

Ted Simons: In order to get to these people the judges need training, as well, correct?

Aimee Anderson: Correct. That's one of the areas that we are really working on with other jurisdictions. A number of us just came back from an international mall treatment conference to learn more about the long-term effects of mall treatment. Infant mental health, and learning the specialized needs of the population, why that brain is developing because if we don't do a good job on the front end, these children will not be able to have healthy, secure bonds with appropriate caregivers, so then, it really minimizes their ability to have that appropriate long-term bond with the caregiver.

Ted Simons: And the appropriate long-term bond, the forever family, whether it's the parental family or a foster care family or something else, I mean, there is a concern, is there a concern that there might be a rush to permanency here, that you might get the family back together and they don't need to be back together?

Aimee Anderson: Well, there is a law that, that mandates that we look at permanency for children under the age of three, which is the population we focus on. But, in order to be involved in cradle to crayons, at least one child of that group must be under the age of three. And the law requires us to look at permanency within six months. So, if we have the right services in place for the parents, and they are engaging, we'll give them that time to make the improvement that is they need to be successfully reunified, but if they are not engaging in services and they are not making those behavioral changes, we have to follow the law, that's what we are hired to do as jurists. So we have concurrent planning on every one of our cases, and as I explained that to the parents and the department because sometimes they need to be reminded, concurrent means that, which means family reunification and severance and adoption so we're going to make sure that these families get all of the services that they need to have the best chance of a successful reunification, about if they are not doing what they need to, then that case plan falls away and we continue on with the severance and adoption.

Ted Simons: Is it difficult at times to figure out if the parents are doing what they want to do because I read about the center, it's an encouraging environment. It's the environment that is probably very different from where some of these parents come from, but they are, their learning skills, they are learning skills they may have never had, but in an area that's not the same as home. How do you work that balance?

Aimee Anderson: Well, the services at the cradle to crayons child welfare center are supplemental services, to what are already put in place for the families through child protective services. And so, they may have a parent aid, supervised visitation in their home with the parent aid, but this would be additional services for, for parent, child psychotherapy, or a parent who suffers from a significant drug, drug problem, having them participate in our treatment courts where they have weekly hearings and counseling sessions working on those services. And so, some of the services are going on in the cradle to crayons child welfare center, but that is in addition to the services that cps is putting in place. When it's appropriate and safe, to have those visitations in that home environment, that's where it's taking place.

Ted Simons: What do you see as far as results especially with that aspect of the parental bonding and getting those skills together?

Aimee Anderson: It is absolutely remarkable to have the families come back and, and tell us in court how helpful this is, this has been, how they feel supported, and how making the connection with these additional providers, is giving them the encouragement that they need. And it is also incredible to see for those cases because they are out there, the abandonment cases, a typical abandonment case, that child could have been in foster care for years before the case was, actually, built up and legally ready and went through the system. We, in those cases we have these children legally free. And adopted, in the same place element that took that child home from the hospital. And so, to have forever families, whether it's with the family origin or another family, we're seeing it sooner, and safer because those additional services are in place.

Ted Simons: We have 30 seconds left. What's next for c2c?

Aimee Anderson: We are -- we just added a new cradle to crayons judge at our Durango facilities. The numbers are going up to we're adding new divisions. We are hoping to roll out additional services similar to what we have at Durango, and the east valley. And we do have an open husband this Friday at our cradle to crayons child welfare center from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Ted Simons: Located at?

Aimee Anderson: 3445 west Durango.

Ted Simons: All right. And great information. Congratulations. It sounds like a success and continued success.

Aimee Anderson: Thank you, we're very excited about this.

Aimee Anderson:Judge;

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