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Baby courts: A proven approach to stop the multigenerational transmission of ACES in child welfare; new efforts to establish courts nationwide


The organization Zero To Three estimates that in the U.S., a child is taken into the child welfare system every six seconds. 

“Many of society’s most intractable problems can be traced back to childhood adversity. Being in the child welfare system increases the likelihood of more adversity and criminality. Baby court is a proven approach to healing the trauma of both child and parent, and breaking the cycle of maltreatment,” says Mimi Graham, Ed.D., director of the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy.

Join us for “A Better Normal” on Friday, Aug. 7 at noon PDT/3 p.m. EDT, when Graham will be talking about Florida’s Early Childhood Courts with Lynn Tepper, retired Early Childhood Court judge from Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit. This timely conversation happens as the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to learn more about Infant-Toddler Courts in the proposed new Strengthening America’s Families Act (SAFA).


“Healing parent and early childhood trauma has many benefits across the lifespan,” Graham says. “The small investment early produces a huge savings, not only in child welfare but in reducing later mental and physical health issues, addictions, criminality, and other negative consequences associated with toxic childhood stress.”

Florida’s  Early Childhood Courtfondly known as “baby court”, has three unique parts:  a trauma educated judge who holds monthly hearings with families; a multidisciplinary team who meets monthly to encourage families in their case plan; and an infant mental health clinician who provides child-parent therapy to heal trauma and strengthen the relationship.  

“This integration of therapy and supports increases the likelihood of reunification with parents, getting families out of the system faster, but more importantly, reducing recurrence of abuse. With this model, you’re healing the underlying issue, which, for a family with generations of ACEs, is one of the best things happening to stop the cycle,” says Graham.

A recent recipient of the Medal of Honor Award from the Florida Bar Foundation for children's advocacy and for spearheading the creation of Florida’s Early Childhood Court, Graham says the early childhood work also reduces later criminality. 

“Research shows that the  biggest predictor of criminality is a history of child welfare, especially sexual abuse in that system. Addressing trauma early and increasing healthy relationships buffer the toxic effects of early adversity,” said Graham. 

Joining Graham on the webinar will be Judge Lynn Tepper. Retired in 2018, Tepper had served on the bench for more than three decades, and has received wide recognition for her trauma informed courtroom and dedicated service to families.

Tepper says she appreciates the improvements that Early Childhood Court has brought to dependency courts, as many traditional dependency cases have children with multiple foster family placements, often with abrupt transitions, and with little or no consideration of the importance of attachment and trauma.

“In Early Childhood Court, that abrupt transition doesn’t happen,” says Graham. “The judge knows the value of a child having a healthy attachment with the parent, and the trauma caused by separations, so we strive for the first placement to be the only placement,” says Graham.

Tepper adds, “Now, together with a trauma-informed team, we see babies and parents through a trauma lens, and the multi-generational cycle of trauma that brought children into my courtroom, people who are now parents or defendants or even grandparents, has a chance to stop. Early Childhood Courts help individuals live with more hope than fear. These courts make it possible to end the cycle of parent and early childhood trauma with this generation.”

 During the webinar, Graham and Tepper and will discuss more about:

To register for the webinar, please click here


Images (1)
  • IMG_0041: Judge Lynne Tepper and Dr. Mimi Graham, friends and colleagues in the work to prevent adverse childhood experiences by advancing the acceptance and spread of "baby courts."

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