Early Childhood Courts

Expanding the Safe Babies Court Team™ Approach in Washington State

In Washington State, children under the age of three made 42% of dependency cases filed in 2018.  Of all children who go into care in Washington state, 25.6% are infants under 1 year, the second-highest rate in the country.  Early childhood experiences shape children’s brain development and have life-long impacts on their social, emotional and physical well-being. Timely and appropriate interventions help maltreated babies and families heal.

Safe Babies Court Team™ (SBCT) approach is a community engagement and systems-change initiative focused on reducing trauma and improving how courts, child welfare and child-serving organizations work together to support young children in, or at-risk of entering, the child welfare system. Pierce County has led the way in Washington with the Pierce County Early Childhood Court Program (Formerly Best for Babies Program), and through new funding opportunities, CCYJ has expanding the SBCT approach in four additional counties: Kitsap, Thurston, Spokane, and Clark since September 2020.

What We’ve Done

  • Convened a Design Team of statewide, regional, and local stakeholders to strategize SBCT implementation in communities across the state. Comprised of experts from a variety of fields and areas of practice, including parent and caregiver allies, we worked together to create a blueprint for state-wide SBCT expansion and sustainability. Together, we identified high-impact communities; state, regional and local needs – including barriers, strengths, and existing resources; developed a strategy for the 2021 Legislative session; formed statewide mission, vision, and value statements; and created a funding plan.
  • Led by Washington’s data, identified communities of high need and impact for SBCT expansion. We assessed population demographics and outcomes of infants, toddlers, and families involved in the child welfare system. In identifying communities, we looked at the number of dependency cases filed for children under the age of three; racial disproportionality; abundance, or lack, of services and resources; geographic diversity; community buy-in and readiness.
  • Delivered an implementation plan to national ZERO TO THREE. Included in this plan were recommendations for high impact opportunities of potential investment of an SBCT expansion across Washington State, and an outline of a statewide oversight structure to address barriers and ensure alignment to the SBCT approach.
  • Applied for, and was granted, funding to launch the SBCT approach in 3 new sites. This funding supported the initial launch of a statewide oversight structure, and installation of the approach in Kitsap, Thurston, and Spokane in Fall of 2020.
  • Applied for, and was granted, funding to launch the SBCT approach in a 4th new site. Clark county launched in early 2022.
  • Supported the development of, and advocated for the passage of 2SSB 5331. 2SSB 5331 creates a statewide standard of practice for Early Childhood Court Programs, putting racial equity, parent voice, relationships, and safe reunification at the forefront of practice and service delivery. This bill received statewide support from parents, systems, and community partners, leading to its passage into law. 2SSB 5331 is a necessary and promising step in our work toward creating a more equitable, holistic systems response for infants, toddlers, and their families in the child welfare system.

What We’re Doing Now

  • Support the installation and sustainability of the SBCT approach in Washington State. In collaboration with ZERO TO THREE and Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, CCYJ will supports the installation and sustainability of the approach in Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston, Spokane, and Clark counties.
  • Develop local and statewide oversight structures. Comprising of key stakeholders of the judiciary, legislative leadership, child welfare, and community service providers, these structures serve to: engage in strategic implementation planning; address gaps and barriers to accessing supports; reduce racial disparities and inequities; analyze measures of continuous quality improvement; set benchmarks; and ensure fidelity to the SBCT approach.
  • Securing future funding and leveraging existing resources. We continue to seek opportunities for a statewide public-private partnership funding network, with the intent to support sustainability and additional expansion of the work.
  • Developing a Legislative strategy. We’re collaborated with legislative champions to create legislation that promotes the standardization of the SBCT approach across the state, with the intent to pave the pathway for funding in the future.
  • Fostering momentum of stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm. We will continue to provide education, outreach, and engage with potential new partners and sites expressing interest in adopting the SBCT approach.
  • Supporting ECCP structures to align with 2SSB 5331. With the enactment of 2SSB 5331, Early Childhood Court Programs across the state are required to align with core components outlined in the bill. In partnership with the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, CCYJ will work with sites and interested communities to build and maintain court programs that are aligned with the legislation.

Interested in Learning More?

For an overview of the SBCT approach:

To learn more about what we’ve done in WA State:

Early Childhood Court State Advisory Board Meetings:

Design Team Meetings:

Evaluations of the SBCT Approach:

ZERO TO THREE Webinars and Videos:

  • Video: Safe Babies Court Team™: Building Strong Families and Healthy Communities
  • Recording: The National Infant Toddler Court Program: Transforming Families and Communities
  • Recording: Meeting Parents Where They Are and Utilizing Evidence-Based Interventions to Support Families with Complex Trauma

Other Helpful Resources:

Have questions, or want to support this effort?

If you would like to reach out to CCYJ regarding the Safe Babies Court Team™ approach and its implementation in Washington State, please contact Emily Nicewonger at ENicewonger@ccyj.org