Senator Lauren Book (D- Plantation) and Representative Amber Mariano (R- Port Richey) have teamed up to file legislation creating a new section of Florida Statutes to support an Early Childhood Court (ECC) program for cases involving children under the age of three. This innovative system is considered a “problem-solving court,” operating with a goal of improving child safety and well-being, healing trauma, expediting permanency, and stopping the inter-generational cycle of abuse/neglect/violence.
“Every child deserves the best possible start in life, but some families need some extra help to provide safe and loving care and break the cycle of abuse,” says Senator Lauren Book, who has been a proponent of early childhood courts since visiting the Miami ECC and witnessing the sensitivities and services outside the scope of a traditional courtroom. “The data shows that Early Childhood Courts provide the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and reduce the likelihood of future court involvement.”
The Early Childhood Court model uses specialized dockets, multidisciplinary teams, evidence-based treatment and a non-adversarial approach. Data shows that children whose cases are tried in ECCs are in out-of-home care for significantly less time than those not served by ECCs. Additionally, the Florida Dependency Court Information System (FDCIS) data analysis showed that in 2018, children in ECC had a 40% reduction in recurrence of maltreatment compared to non-ECC children.
“The Early Childhood Court approach represents a new hope for the most vulnerable among us in breaking the multigenerational cycle of abuse and neglect,” says Representative Amber Mariano after becoming a proponent for the new model. “It is our goal to begin to provide a pathway for many of our struggling families to achieve stable, nurturing relationships.”
Currently, there are 22 ECC sites throughout Florida serving 350 children aged 0-3. The current patchwork of locations throughout the state were created independently of each other by various municipalities, and are paid for by a variety of means within those municipalities. This legislation would go a long way to expanding ECC access while standardizing procedures for the court throughout the state.