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New Court Program in East Tennessee Aims to Help Babies

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — At the Jefferson County Juvenile Court, the cases have changed. Since the opioid crisis began, there have been more and more cases of neglect--and more and more cases involving young children.

"We have two or three a month probably, that's conservatively speaking," Teresa Moyers, the court's director, said.

Now Jefferson County is one of three counties in East Tennessee taking a new approach to infants in the child services system. The county just received a grant for $300,000 to establish a "Safe Baby Court."

Instead of getting a list of Department of Child Services requirements and a case worker, families selected by a judge will have access to more community resources through the program.

Judge Will Roach will select the up to 20 participants in Jefferson County.

"If I see promise on first impression... I see parents that it looks like they're willing to work and looks like they just need some help," he said, describing the ideal candidates.

The court is designed to bring together community services to help families--everything from job placement to help finding a place to live, from rehab to plumbers.

"Anything that a perfectly functioning family would need," Moyers said.

The goal is to help parents get back on their feet and to help babies in the foster care system get back to a permanent home.

"If we can reach one kid, one child and make a difference in one child's life, then that child when they grow older will make a difference in their family's life, in their grandkid's life, and then we have a healthier society at the end of the day. That's the goal," Roach said.

But Roach and Moyers said they need community help to get it done. They said anyone who wants to make a difference in babies' lives can contact the Jefferson County Juvenile Court system.

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