Empowering birth and foster parents: A summary of the March 2020 Safe Babies evaluation report findings

By Kaitlyn Doerge, MSSW

The Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing has been collaborating with First3Years to evaluate the Safe Babies program since 2017. Safe Babies began in Tarrant County and has since extended its reach to Dallas County, with plans to start working with families in Harris County next month.

Safe Babies seeks to promote secure attachment for infants and toddlers in foster care, remediate the effect of inadequate or problematic caregiving that the child previously experienced, and limit the institutional trauma that infants and toddlers commonly experience as they move through the child welfare system. The program accomplishes this by working directly with birth families and foster families to strengthen relationships and connect children to needed supports, and by facilitating the broader systemic changes necessary to achieve a more developmentally informed child protection response. “They’re not against us. They’re with us,” as one birth parent mentioned in an interview. Safe Babies currently works with families and professionals in Tarrant and Dallas counties and will start working with families in Harris County in mid-October.

The most recent evaluation report includes updated data from professional and parent surveys, Early Childhood Intervention, and the Department of Family and Protective Services. Key findings from the March 2020 report include:

  • Birth and foster parents involved in Safe Babies feel supported and empowered, increase communication and collaboration, and demonstrate sensitive parenting.
  • Professionals involved in Safe Babies demonstrate a strong alliance with one another and families. They also support a growing culture of healthy attachment and development support for infants and toddlers in the child welfare system.
  • Safe Babies connects children with essential health and developmental supports during a critical period and will continue working with partners such as Early Childhood Intervention to improve service coordination and delivery.

Key recommendations for the program include:

  • Continue to develop opportunities for stakeholder meetings and input across counties to foster more supportive communities for infants, toddlers, and families in child welfare.
  • Integrate trainings and best practice sharing with DFPS staff and leadership to enhance collaboration within the child welfare system.
  • Continue direct services and evaluation to examine progress toward long-term outcomes and improve the network of referrals and support for infants, toddlers and families.
  • Expand community collaboration and infrastructure to create a more developmentally informed child welfare system.

The next program evaluation report will include findings from 2019 and 2020 interviews and focus groups with a variety of Safe Babies professional stakeholders and will be released early next year.