Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis, director of the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation, addresses graduates and guests during Friday’s Safe Baby Court graduation ceremony at the Coffee County Justice Center. One of the programs under the umbrella of the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation, the safe baby initiative aims to combat child abuse and neglect.  

Three new graduates – the first in the state – of the Coffee County Safe Baby Program are now ready to provide peaceful homes and a “strong future” to their children, said Mike Lewis, director of the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation.

The safe baby court treats individuals with children up to 3 years of age. The initiative aims to combat child abuse, neglect and drug addiction.

One of the programs under the umbrella of the Coffee County Drug Court Foundation, the court held its graduation ceremony on Friday at the Coffee County Justice Center in Manchester.

“We were thrilled to host the first graduation of these special courts in Tennessee,” Lewis said.

Launched in January 2018, the Coffee County Safe Baby Court program provides child-parent psychotherapy and therapeutic visitations, and offers interventions to meet the specific needs of each child and parent.

“Safe baby court is a community-engaged and systems-change approach focused on improving how the courts, child welfare agencies and other child serving organizations can partner and share resources to reduce the time children spend in the foster care system.”

The program’s goal is to decrease the recurrence of maltreatment and successfully connect children and families to needed resources, Lewis said, adding that an infant or toddler is removed from their home due to alleged abuse or neglect every six minutes.

“What an incredible opportunity our community has to respond to the needs of children and parents with a healing and future building strategy,” he said.

 

‘Thrilled with the accomplishments’

Lewis commended the participants in the program.

“We are thrilled with the accomplishments that our graduates are experiencing as a result of their decisions and dedication,” he said.

The graduates have completed parenting classes and intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment.

“They are employed and they have stable housing,” Lewis said. “They have custody of their children, and they are creating a safe and strong future for their children.”

The success of the program depended on the efforts of all who were involved.

Magistrate Stacy Lynch presided over the safe baby court, and Coffee County General Sessions Court Judge Timothy Brock and Licensed Clinical Social Worker Martha McCallie provided essential support for the program.

The Department of Children’s Services, Mental Health Cooperative and Camelot Care Centers were also involved.

When safe baby court was launched in 2018, Coffee County was one of only seven counties in Tennessee to offer the program, according to coordinator Sheila Barrera.

By treating individuals with children up to 3 years old, the program reaches children at a critical time developmentally, said Barrera.

One of the main goals of the program is strengthening the bond between the child and the parent. It helps to connect babies and their families with the support services they need to promote healthy child development.

When infants or toddlers are removed from home due to alleged abuse or neglect, they are often placed in a child welfare system that is harmful to their development. The approach of the safe baby program transforms child welfare and focuses on ensuring the child’s well-being by using the science of early childhood development.

The Mental Health Court, Veterans Court and Recovery Court, also known as the drug court, are also part of the drug court foundation.

For more information about the safe baby initiative or the other programs, call 931-723-3051.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com