In 2017, Knox County was awarded a grant from the Department of Children’s Services to begin SBC. There are currently 12 SBCs across the state of Tennessee and our current grant contract goes through 2022 with anticipated funding through 2024. With the support of Zero to Three, Knox County is working to implement the 10 Core Components of SBC as developed by this nationally recognized leader.
The SBC Program begins with Judicial Leadership. All SBC cases are heard by one Magistrate on a monthly basis. In Knox County, Magistrate Angela Blevins is the identified Safe Baby Court magistrate. She values the court program as a means of reforming the child welfare system, specifically with how cases of small children are handled. Magistrate Blevins sets the tone for hearings and focuses on implementing a non-adversarial environment whenever possible. She is trauma informed and helps produce solutions when the team is struggling to come to an agreement about case direction. In addition to the role of Magistrate in the court room, Magistrate Blevins plays a part in sharing information regarding SBC with other court personnel and within the local community. She has been vital in promoting sustainability and growth of the court program as well as bringing many influential key players to our stakeholder team.
Across the nation, Safe Baby Courts have a Court Coordinator who plays a role both on the micro level within specific cases, but also on the macro level in systems integration and change in the local community. As the Knox County Court Coordinator, Kaki Reynolds oversees case progress and team cohesion and collaboration for each SBC case. With the assistance of the Safe Baby Court Case Manager, Amanda Haynes, Kaki works to assess the individual needs of each family and ensure timely access to services and resources to help families make progress and achieve long term success and stability. Kaki works to represent SBC in the community and to increase awareness of Infant Mental Health needs and SBC initiatives locally. The Safe Baby Court Team has worked to develop relationships and establish partnerships in conjunction with the SBC mission and values.
Knox County SBC has a multidisciplinary Stakeholder Team which meets quarterly. The Stakeholder Team reviews SBC data, identifies gaps in services and discusses the issues and patterns raised by cases that are currently enrolled in SBC and that may reflect trends in the community at large. Members of the stakeholder team can include child welfare agency staff; local government agencies and administrators; health care providers; attorneys; Court Appointed Special Advocates; mental health professionals; law enforcement; substance abuse treatment providers; early intervention specialists; representatives from colleges or universities; faith-based groups; foster parents or individuals from foster parents organizations; child and family advocates; state legislators; local elected officials, volunteer community leaders.
In Knox County, we are incredibly proud of our ever-growing Stakeholder Team. Due to relationships stemming from quarterly Stakeholder Meetings, the Safe Baby Court Team has developed a partnership with Section 8 and a local property management group to ensure the housing needs of our families are efficiently met. We have partnered with TCAT to ensure our participants have access to higher education and technical training where appropriate. We’ve established a system with our Community Law Office to help participants expunge charges and regain access to their driver’s licenses. It is abundantly clear that the Knoxville community is one that wants to help and the potential for cross-sector collaboration to meet the needs of our most vulnerable community memebrs is endless.
SBC in Knox County targets infants and toddlers in out-of-home care. All families enrolled in Knox County SBC have at least one child in the family unit from birth to age 3. All children must be placed away from their biological parents at the onset of the case. These children may be placed in foster care or non-custodially in the care of relatives or family supports. SBC strives to value birth parents by continually assessing and reassessing the parents’ needs and responding to these needs in every regard. The first goal of SBC is always reunification. SBC initiatives are trauma informed and promote a positive impact on protective factors in families to increase long term success and stability apart from the child welfare system. Parents are offered a plethora of support and services through SBC which includes but is not limited to: mental health assessments and treatment, drug and alcohol assessments and treatment, parenting support and classes, housing support, transportation assistance, legal aid, employment support, financial support and aid, trauma counseling, medical care, dental care, vision care, etc. Authentic and honest relationships are established between parents and SBC staff to promote a safe place to share struggles so the team can appropriately respond and support participants in achieving long term recovery. This Continuum of Mental Health Services can only be achieved through a strong infrastructure of engagement by all players in our community. All participants have access to Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP), a relationship based trauma therapy indicated for small children. SBC participants have access to Intensive Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Treatment (IOP), individual therapy, CPP, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), Inpatient Treatment, trauma therapy, developmental assessments and subsequent services, play therapy, LifeSet services, Comprehensive Child-Family Treatment (CCFT), parenting classes, therapeutic visitation, etc.
SBC focuses heavily not only on the needs and services of the parents but also on assessing and responding to the needs of each individual child. As research suggests, infanthood is a critical time for children to learn to bond and to process through their emotions and feelings. The attachment relationships between an infant and their caregivers is an integral aspect to each child’s lifelong success. Therefore, SBC focuses on promoting Infant Mental Health for children who have already experienced trauma related to separation from their parents due to substance use and other challenges. We accomplish this through parent-child contact, placement and concurrent planning and foster parent intervention.
SBC sees parent-child contact as a critical way to help the child and parents develop a positive relationship despite living apart from one another. The goal of parent-child contact is to allow the child and parent to nurture their relationship and to target the parents’ responsiveness to the child’s needs. Research has found a correlation between the frequency of parent-child visits and the speed with which a child achieves permanency. The goal of the SBC Team is to create an individualized visitation plan that provides the highest level of face to face and other contact as is logistically possible, while keeping the child’s safety at the center of all decisions.
Although reunification is the primary goal of SBC, due to the complexity of the issues faced by individuals in our court program, concurrent planning is also a priority in all case planning. From the very beginning, conversations are held regarding permanency if the parents are no longer a long-term placement option. Ideally, the person who agrees to take physical custody of the child at removal would be a permanent option should the need arise, but if not, additional back up plans and concurrent plans are developed.
Foster parents and relative caregivers play a pivotal role in making children in their homes feel safe and nurtured. Their role is invaluable as they provide care and advocacy for children placed in their home. Foster parents and caregivers in SBC are offered support to help maintain placements and to help children in their homes flourish and thrive mentally, emotionally and developmentally. Further, SBC strives to help foster parents and caregivers nurture healthy relationships among children and their biological parents, siblings and extended family. SBC seeks foster parents and caregivers who are committed to reunification when it is in the best interest of the child and we hope to support ongoing relationships between biological parents and foster parents post-reunification when possible. Both foster parents and biological parents play valuable, albeit different, roles in each child’s life and that value should be emphasized and promoted by the SBC Team. Monthly Child and Family Team Meetings are held to ensure all team members’ voices are heard and to ensure we are remaining focused on the needs of the parents, the children and on the permanency of the child.
Finally, SBC seeks to understand the impact of our work by focusing on data collection to support our outcomes. Data collection occurs on multiple levels within Tennessee SBCs. The SBC Coordinator enters information into a data system regularly. The AOC collects that data and provides it to the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) who publish an annual report capturing the year in review and the overall impact of the SBCs statewide. Further, the Vanderbilt Center of Excellence (COE) offers Technical Assistance with the implementation of the Child Assessment of Strengths and Needs 0-4 (CANS 0-4) and provides analysis regularly on the state level and to local courts as requested. The Vanderbilt COE also supports DCS in analyzing custodial data trends and how SBC data statewide compares to cases handled in our typical child welfare system. As this partnership continues, the Vanderbilt COE is committed to providing county specific data to Knox County to determine the direct impact of SBCs work in our community.