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Local News

Grant To Benefit Local Children's Program

Photo via Flickr// Bart van Maarseveen

The Florida Institute for Child Welfare is giving a $60,000 grant, aimed at enhancing the work of Early Childhood Court Teams serving Escambia and Okaloosa Counties.

ECCT’s goal is to improve the overall well-being of children from birth to three years old, who have been removed from their homes due to maltreatment.

“There has to be a verified finding of abuse, neglect or abandonment,” said Program Facilitator Margot Doelker. “And in order to be eligible to be in an early childhood court team, it has to be a removal from both parents.”

When a toddler enters an early childhood court team, all delays in receiving both physical and psychological services have been remedied – including an assessment of the parents within five business days of the shelter hearing.

FamiliesFirst Network, a program at Lakeview Center in Pensacola, is the local provider contracted by the Florida Department of Children and Families to serve the state’s First Judicial Circuit.

FFM has provided coordination for the Early Childhood program since 2013 in Escambia County, and in Okaloosa since last March. Ninety percent of the money will go towards research, in a partnership that includes FamiliesFirst and the Tallahassee-based group Ounce of Prevention.

Dave Dunwoody
Margo Doelker at the WUWF studios.

“They’re going to be determining if these early childhood court teams do, in fact, lead to a permanent situation quicker for these children,” Doelker said. “Whether that be reunification with their parents; adoption, or in a permanent place. That is the goal, to expedite permanency for these children.”

The remainder of the grant, about $6,000, will be used to pay for training by the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. Topics include being trauma informed, and working together in groups, which Doelker says is the premise of an early childhood court team.

The Trauma-Informed Care, or TIC, topics include the effects of trauma on young kids; how to engage parents with their own trauma histories, and vicarious trauma, which contributes to burnout among workers who serve such clients.

While ECCT covers Escambia and Okaloosa, Doelker says Santa Rosa and Walton also have a stake in the program as its two control groups during the research.

“With which we will compare our numbers to see if having ECCTs in Escambia and Okaloosa Counties,” said Doelker. “We will compare them against Santa Rosa and Walton Counties to see if we are being effective in getting to permanency for the children.

Because the grant is only for one year, it’s a short turnaround in compiling the data. Those figures, says Margot Doelker, are expected to be available within that time frame.