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Helpful Resources for Courts Working with Babies

Lucy HudsonLucy Hudson, Director, Safe Babies Court Teams Project, Zero to Three

Summary: Hudson introduces projects at ZERO TO THREE targeting the special needs of young children.


In the past 20 years, we have learned a tremendous amount about what is going on during the first few years of life. This research has provided new understanding of the complex social, emotional and intellectual development that unfolds in the earliest years. Reinforced in virtually every aspect of this research is the seminal role played by a baby’s relationships with his closest caregivers. It is those relationships that dictate how every aspect of early human development unfolds, from the brain’s evolving circuitry to the child’s capacity for empathy.[i] Infants and toddlers are the most vulnerable to the effects of maltreatment, and its impact on all aspects of their development can have life-long implications if not properly addressed.[ii],[iii] The resources described below provide three resources for judges, social workers, CASA volunteers and staff and others involved in the child welfare system who want more information.

The Safe Babies Court Teams Project Announces a New DVD

The Safe Babies Court Teams Project is a systems change initiative, spearheaded by ZERO TO THREE. It is modeled on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Model Courts Project. The Safe Babies Court Teams Project is focused on improving how the courts, child welfare agencies and related child-serving organizations work together, share information and expedite services for young children and their families. Safe Babies Court Teams are led by judges who collaborate with child development specialists to create teams of community stakeholders. Together they provide services to abused and neglected infants and toddlers.

As part of our focus on the most vulnerable babies and toddlers, ZERO TO THREE has developed four new videos that address the needs of families whose very young children have been abused or neglected.

  • Safe Babies Court Teams: Nurturing Healthy Families for Young Children in Foster Care—This DVD displays the primary features of the Safe Babies Court Team model.
  • Confronting Early Adversity: Working with Parents of Maltreated Babies—In this brief film, professionals and birth parents explain the challenges facing parents who have young children in foster care.
  • Partnering with Parents From Day One: Planning a Child’s Transition to Foster Care at Pre-Removal Conferences—This film describes pre-removal conferences (PRC), a strategy being used very effectively by the Iowa Department of Human Services on the day a child is leaving a parent’s custody because of abuse or neglect.
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: The Elephant in the Courtroom—Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) affect a huge segment of children and parents involved in cases of child maltreatment. The film documents the value of early diagnosis and describes the challenges confronting children and adults with an FASD.

To order Safe Babies Court Teams: Building Strong Families and Healthy Communitiesemail Marcia Sandifer or visit the ZERO TO THREE website  for an order form.

A Policy Agenda for Addressing the Developmental Needs of Infants and Toddlers Involved in the Child Welfare System

Every child welfare decision and service should enhance the well-being of infants, toddlers and their families. Elements of a policy agenda focused on infants, toddlers and their families should build on what we know about healthy infant and toddler development and the protective factors that help families mitigate the trauma of maltreatment and provide a nurturing environment for young children. Reorienting a child welfare system toward a developmental approach requires commitment from policymakers as well as the inclusion of specific knowledge of the science of early child development in the training of child welfare, social service, early childhood and legal workforces.

A Call to Action On Behalf of Maltreated Infants and Toddlers—jointly published by the American Humane Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the Children’s Defense Fund and ZERO TO THREE—represents the authors’ collective vision of important steps that can and should be taken in policies, programs and practices to better address the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who come to the attention of the child welfare system. The full document can be downloaded from the ZERO TO THREE website.

Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Future: A Judge’s Guide

Judges can play a singular role in the community in marshaling services and assistance on behalf of the children and families at risk. With that in mind, the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law published Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Future: A Judge’s Guide, a collaboration between the ABA, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and Zero to Three. Eva Klain described the book’s purpose in her preface:

This guide provides you, in one easily accessible resource, a comprehensive source of information about the health needs of very young children in care within the context of permanency decision-making. We hope it will help you ask the right questions, require the necessary health-related information, and make the life-altering decisions that meet the unique health needs of very young children in the child welfare system. You can promote the health of the infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who come before you in the courtroom and help them achieve their full potential. Their healthy beginnings can lead to healthy futures.[iv]

This book can be downloaded from:

Author biography:

Lucy Hudson has more than 30 years of experience in project management, program implementation and policy development in public and private sector child welfare, child care, mental health and youth-serving organizations. Hudson currently serves as the director for the Safe Babies Court Teams Project at Zero to Three. She has been instrumental in the planning and development of the Court Teams Project and is responsible for the daily operation and oversight of all project activities, project staff and fiscal matters. As the director, she also produces training materials, including a series of DVDs about working with families involved in the child welfare system. For four years, she directed efforts in Massachusetts and nationally to learn about and expand the models of court-based, drop-in child care available to litigants, jurors, witnesses and victims. While at the Center for the Study of Social Policy (1993–1996) Hudson was a member of the team evaluating the District of Columbia’s success in complying with the terms of the LaShawn A. v. Kelly class action suit brought against the District on behalf of children in the child welfare system. Throughout her professional career, Hudson has served as a public speaker on issues affecting the lives of young children. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and her master of science degree from Wheelock College.

Author's Note:

Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Future: A Judge’s Guide guide was supported in full by Grant #G96MC04451, Improving Understanding of Maternal and Child Health, to the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. 

[i] National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. From Neurons to Neighborhood: The Science of Early Childhood Development. J.P. Shonkoff and D.A. Phillips, eds. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.

[ii] Cicchetti, D., and V. Carlson, Eds. Child Maltreatment: Theory and Research on the Causes and Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1989; National Research Council. Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect. Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior. A.J. Reiss, Jr., and J.A. Roth, eds. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.   Washington, DC: National Academy Press (1993). 

[iii] Kolko, D.J. “Child physical abuse.” Pp. 21-50 in The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment. J. Briere and L. Berliner, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. (1996).

[iv] Klain, E., Pilnik, L., Talati, E., Maze, C.L., Diamond-Berry, K., Hudson, L. (2009). Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Futures: A Judge’s Guide. Washington, DC: American Bar Association. Page vii.



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