Combating tiny child abuse is goal of Safe Baby Court

Sixty-three percent of parents of children ages newborn to 3 years old who are involved in child welfare services have four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences, Knox County Safe Baby Court coordinator Kaki Reynolds told Rotary Club of Farragut members.

The club heard from Reynolds, daughter-in-law of Farragut Rotarian Mike Reynolds, during its weekly meeting in Fox Den Country Club Wednesday, Aug. 28.

ACE experiences could include abuse; neglect; household dysfunction such as mental illness, divorce, domestic abuse, substance abuse or an incarcerated relative.

Safe Baby Court is Knox County Juvenile Court’s pilot program to be a voice for babies and their parents. Reynolds said it is aimed at combating child abuse, neglect and substance addiction in families involved with Knox County Department of Children’s Services.

“Safe Baby Court is a specialized court program established for infants and toddlers, birth to 3 years old,” said Kaki Reynolds, program coordinator. “Our goal is to connect babies with communities and provide strong foundations for infant mental health.”

The program was started in Davidson and Grundy counties a couple of years ago under the leadership of Aim High Tennessee, an association for Infant Mental Health, Reynolds said.

Then in 2017, she said legislation passed to allow additional Safe Baby Courts.

“That’s when Knox County started,” she said. “We were under a grant from the Department of Children’s Services.”

As part of the state requirements, parents have to agree to be part of the program, and the local Juvenile Court has to have jurisdiction over the case.

“In Knox County, specifically, we’re working with children who have been placed away from their parents, so they are either placed in foster care in the Department of Children Services or they’re placed with relative caregivers for family support,” Reynolds said. “All the parties we’re working with live in Knox County. We’re not currently working with families that have domestic violence involved.

“Safe Baby Court is a little bit different than your typical child welfare system,” she added. “We have monthly child and family team meetings.

“We’re in court for hearings every single month with the same magistrate, constantly talking about progress and struggles. There’s a lot of points to interface with families and talk about how things are going … and come up with a plan on how to address whatever needs are present.”

Mental health services for both baby and parent, “Such as providing assistance with everyday costs from diapers to car seats, or providing transportation, gift cards or daycare” are all included, Reynolds said.

The program also provides increased visitation between the infant and parent, frequent random drug screening and home visits.

However, she said the first strategy is to “establish safety for babies immediately.

Another strategy is to reach long-term placements quicker so relationships stay as stable as possible,” she added.

A coordinator since October 2018, “she has worked to continue to grow that program, as well as well as the awareness of that program,” Mike Reynolds said.