The Safe Babies program is designed to improve outcomes for infants and toddlers in foster care by supporting their attachment needs at the most critical time in a child’s development.
First3Years, formerly Texas Association for Infant Mental Health (TAIMH), began in 1980 as a group of volunteers in the infant mental health field who were concerned about the quality of care for infants and toddlers both inside and outside the home. The agency began operating its Safe Babies program in July of 2015 in Tarrant County, Texas, with the goal of helping the child welfare system to better meet the developmental needs of young children.
Safe Babies serves children age birth to 36 months who have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services due to child neglect or drug exposure at birth. Interventions are chiefly designed to support birth parents to build healthy attachment relationships with their children through coaching from a Safe Babies staff member and the children’s foster parents, shared parenting of children with the foster parents, coordination of care among service providers, and training stakeholders who influence child welfare cases in early childhood development. Expected outcomes include increased reunification rates, reduced recidivism, placement stability, decreased time to unsupervised visits and permanency, fewer parental rights terminations, improved child well-being outcomes, a stronger alliance between service providers, and the creation of developmentally informed policies that guide the treatment of infants and toddlers in the child welfare system.
Safe Babies is currently in the process of expanding its services to Dallas County, Texas. This expansion is part of First3Years’ greater vision to build capacity for a more developmentally appropriate response to the youngest foster children within local child welfare systems across the state. Ideally, Safe Babies practices will become institutionalized within Child Protective Services and other child serving agencies, meaning the practices are conducted as a matter of routine and occur independently of specialized programming.
The Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing is conducting an evaluation of the Safe Babies program that will contribute to the body of knowledge regarding attachment interventions for foster children and their caregivers and inform what support child welfare systems need to better meet the unique needs of infants and toddlers in foster care.
The evaluation will answer the following research question: Do children who participate in the Safe Babies program achieve better permanency and wellbeing outcomes compared to children who do not participate in the program? To answer this question, the research team will use a mixed methods design and includes surveys and interviews with birth parents, foster parents, and other stakeholders in addition to outcome data gathering and analysis.
Safe Babies is unique among attachment interventions in that it focuses on providing direct services to families in addition to making systems-level changes. The program evaluation will identify and describe effective multisystemic practices for the purpose of replication.