Early Childhood Court Fast Tracking Reunification for Youngest Foster Children

Across the United States, addiction to opioids is on the rise. What the public once perceived to only be a problem lurking in the alleyways of our cities has now taken root in the suburban yards and farm fields of our nation. Throughout the years, opioid use has been both glamorized and demonized in our culture, but the once popular heroin chic style of 90’s models doesn’t look so pretty on today’s moms who are struggling with addiction.

While the nasal spray Narcan can potentially save the life of someone who overdoses on opioids, there is no prescription for saving their family life once their addiction reaches the breaking point. More and more, children are being placed in foster care as a result of their parents’ addictions. In their July 2016 policy brief, Families in Crisis: The Human Service Implications of Rural Opioid Misuse, the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Health Services stated, “…the opioid crisis could exacerbate child abuse and neglect given that we’re seeing a link nationally. State child welfare systems have reported that they are experiencing an increase in families coming to their attention with substance use problems impacting their ability to safely parent.”

In many states, this influx of children coming into foster care has caused a crisis; there are simply not enough foster parents to go around. ABC News reports that, in Florida, where board rates, and interest in fostering, are low, the state hopes to fast track children, especially those under the age of 3, to permanency through a program called Early Childhood Court (ECC).

A response to the American Academy of Pediatrics findings that children who linger in foster care are more likely to be developmentally delayed than those who do not, ECC seeks to reunify young children with their parents more quickly than in the past. Explaining how ECC works, ABC News reports that, “an infant mental health therapist skilled in child-parent psychotherapy is immediately assigned to the family, parents are also required to stand in front of a judge monthly as opposed to every six months, and there is frequent visitation involved with consistent check-ins on the progress of the family. The model has proven to be successful in expediting reunification between parents and children.”

Reunification is always the primary goal of foster care, but in the event that a child cannot safely return home, they are made available for adoption. In many states, including New Jersey, foster parents often complain that the process takes too long, and that biological parents get too many chances, e.g., if they are addicted to opioids, go to rehab and relapse, the process starts over again. ECC helps children achieve permanency at quicker rates; in Florida, children who were not part of the ECC program found permanency in 518 days, while children in the ECC program waited 360 days, according to Florida’s Dependency Court Information System.

If Florida’s ECC program continues to be successful, it is possible that other states will develop an ECC model of their own. Will ECC programs be the remedy for families scarred by opioid abuse to heal and move forward?

2 thoughts on “Early Childhood Court Fast Tracking Reunification for Youngest Foster Children

  1. I have a child in placement now for three years. His father appealed the decision from a Michigan jail, yet does not even bother with his son. This should not be and needs to stop. This child wants to be adopted. It needs to change here in NJ.

  2. I’m in NJ also. I have had a child in placement for 8 months. Had her since she was born. I think natural parents should have 6 months to complete their criteria for reunification. If not, the children should be placed for adoption. Children deserve a safe and permanent home. There are so many families out there that would be willing to foster and adopt if the Foster system would change. There is a reason that there is a shortage of foster parents. Its because we soon realize that everything is geared towards the wants of the natural parents and not the children. The children are the victims and we as foster parents watch them suffer.

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