Planting pinwheels may “raise awareness” of child abuse, but the hard and labor-intensive work of preventing child abuse goes on in places where skilled professionals collaborate to do more difficult things.
One such place is Orange County’s B.A.B.Y. Court. There, Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore offers lollipops to toddlers and tots who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect. That’s the fun part. The judge’s serious, life-changing work is to closely monitor the progress of the teams of social workers who help mitigate the long-term damage that predictably follows when pre-verbal children suffer harm at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them.
B.A.B.Y. Court was incubated at the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, where “lessons learned” is more than a leaf of word salad tossed into a news release every time a child dies in “state care.” Dr. Mimi Graham and her colleagues are Florida’s head cheerleaders for evidence-based methods of “trauma-informed care.” In the hands of appropriately educated professionals, it is entirely possible to break the intergenerational cycles of abuse, addiction and mental illness that break spirits, drain public treasuries and kill children who could have been saved.
Florida’s social welfare system is stuck in the mid-20th century, where caseworkers in the trenches receive little pay and less respect from a rotating cast of “leadership teams.” Failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable in a system that hasn’t had a new idea since the Graham administration, and isn’t trying very hard to fund programs that will give taxpayers a significantly better ROI.
Judges like Latimore who preside over dependency court dockets of despair say that B.A.B.Y. Court has helped close the revolving door through which families re-enter the child welfare system. The average cost-per-child of getting it right the first time is $10,000, and right now, Orange County has room in the budget for a paltry 10 cases at a time.
The Department of Children and Families, by contrast, has room in its budget for a “communications team” that includes nine flacks and a “Creative Director.”
That says a lot about what we value. And what we don’t.