Resilient Payne County has received funding to create an Infant Toddler Court in Payne County to help improve the health, safety, well-being and development of infants, toddlers and families involved in the child welfare system.

The local organization, which advocates for reducing the impact of trauma on children, received a capacity building grant as a part of a national effort to improve outcomes for families in the child welfare system and dramatically reduce the number of babies and toddlers removed from their families.

Trauma is something that creates ripples in a family, affecting generation after generation.

For the best results, both children and their parents have to be considered.

The ITCP program includes trauma-informed, evidence-based early intervention for both parents and children. It helps address the parents’ past trauma and meet their immediate needs as a way of supporting the parent-child relationship and improving the child’s well-being.

The program was developed by Zero To Three, a non-partisan organization that says it provides a research-based voice to educate the public and political leaders about the unique developmental needs of babies and toddlers.

“Our brains grow faster between the ages of 0 and 3 than at any later point in our lives, forming more than one million new neural connections every second,” Zero To Three Chief Policy Officer Myra Jones Taylor wrote in a 2019 column for the U.S. Chamber Foundation. “When babies have nurturing relationships, early learning experiences, and good health and nutrition, these neural connections are stimulated and strengthened, laying a strong foundation for success in school and the workforce. Unfortunately, too many babies aren’t getting what they need, forming shaky foundations from which to grow.”

The Infant Toddler Court program is a partnership with organizations like the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law; The Center for the Study of Social Policy and The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

It’s a shift away from business as usual and toward improvement, Resilient Payne County board member Carolynn Macallister said in a statement announcing the new program.

Payne County’s Infant Toddler Court Program leadership team includes Special District Judge Michael Kulling, Child Welfare District 9 Director Justin Hoenshell, Payne County Assistant District Attorney Brenda Nipp and Executive Director for Payne County CASA, Angela Parsons.

Kulling’s support was essential for receiving the grant, which is very competitive, Macallister said. And Hoenshell has said he believes the model and its elements are a good fit for our community.

The interdisciplinary team that provides direct services will be led by Victoria Carney-Peters, Community Coordinator for Payne County’s Infant Toddler Court.

“I am extremely passionate about ITCP,” Carney-Peters said. “I truly hope that it not only brings families back together but that it changes our community to better serve infants and toddlers. I am honored to serve in this role and excited to see how it positively impacts the lives for families in Payne County.”

Community resources are a critical component of the Payne County program.

The community team for the Infant Toddler Court Program includes agencies like Payne County United Way, Wings of Hope and the Saville Center for Child Advocacy, early childhood systems like Healthy Steps and Head Start and healthcare providers like Grand Lakes Mental Health Center and Stillwater Medical Center.

The City of Stillwater, Payne County Health Department, representatives from the Oklahoma State University College of Education and Human Sciences and the Department of Clinical Psychology and local policy makers are also part of the effort.

“PCITCP has a committed and talented community team that will work diligently to improve lives of very young children in foster care or children at risk of removal and their families by making systems improvements with practice and policy changes,” Macallister wrote.

More importantly, the team will advocate for supportive community services that could help prevent maltreatment in the first place and keep families from becoming involved with the child welfare system, she noted.

 Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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