Arizona Superior Court of Maricopa County

Maricopa County Juvenile Court



The purpose of Maricopa County Juvenile Court’s project, Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative, which ran through 2015, was to support children birth to 5 involved in or at risk of being involved in the child welfare system in Maricopa County through identifying gaps across systems/institutions, increased institutional collaboration, and increased protective factors for children with child welfare involvement. In addition to the success of the project during the grant period, the Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative project also had a long-lasting impact on child welfare and early education programs.

Long-term Impacts

Although the project ended in 2015, much of the work started by the Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative project has continued and expanded. One reason that the project continues to make an impact is that a key grant activity was the development of a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) between participating organizations that centered on linkages between child welfare and early childhood education systems. The MOU is set to expire in 2021, and the renewal process has created new attention and focus on the power of these partnerships. In addition to the formal MOU, the project set up a pilot referral process between a Department of Child Services (DCS) office and a Head Start organization, which increased the number of eligible children who were provided access to quality early childhood education. The referral process was replicated in additional DCS offices and Early Head Start grantees in the area, and the impacts of those improved referral processes continue today.

The cross-agency and cross-organization communication and collaboration created through the project, in addition to some evaluation processes, have also continued and spread since the end of the grant period. Likewise, ideas that were foundational to the project, such as the importance of fostering partnerships between biological parents and foster parents, have become the norm across agencies and organizations. Finally, the most sustainable and long-term impact of the Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative has been the expansion of elements of the project through “champions.” People that were involved in the project at various points—including DCS staff, early childhood educators, program staff, parents and families, etc.—have taken the values and lessons learned from the project and incorporated them as they have moved on to other roles or programs. These “champions,” as the grantee calls them, have continued building momentum for improving the connection between child welfare and early education systems to better serve young children across the state. In addition to building energy and expertise, this momentum has led people to create programs that aim to achieve similar goals. In this way, key elements created during the grant period have continued to spread and influence new programs and initiatives long after the funding has ended.

Elements of success and challenges

The grantee identified several elements that allowed the project to be successful both during and after the two-year grant period. For example, early buy in from people in leadership positions allowed the project to garner support across agencies, which ultimately supported the goal of the project to break down silos between agencies and create improved relationships and collaboration. In addition, the project team started building the foundations for effective collaboration right away by bringing in an outside expert to train staff on how to collaborate. Finally, the project began with a needs assessment, and utilized strong evaluation practices throughout the grant period, so that the project activities were tailored to identified needs from the very beginning.

The Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative project did face some challenges that impacted the effectiveness of the project. For instance, the grantee felt that more time in the grant period would have allowed them to build deeper collaboration across more agencies, especially since the early part of the two-year grant period was spent planning and hiring staff. Turnover in leadership also impacted the long-term efficacy of the project.

What’s next?

The grantee has ideas about where they would like to see the work of the Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative project go next. For example, they would like to see an intentional effort to create change within systems and organizations so that there is a long-term, expansive impact, rather just surface level changes. The key to this, according to the grantee, is more time to build deep and meaningful collaboration across more agencies.

Project Background:

Grantee name: Arizona Superior Court of Maricopa County (Maricopa County Juvenile Court)                                                                                                                                                                          

Project name: Juvenile Court Early Education Collaborative                                                                          

Target population: Children birth to 5 involved with or at risk of being involved with the child welfare system in Maricopa County.  

Geographic location: Maricopa County, AZ

Project goals:

  1. Early childhood education providers in Maricopa County are identified.
  2. Children, birth to 5, in or at risk of entering foster care and early childhood education accessibility are assessed in the Cradle to Crayons (C2C) jurisdiction.
  3. Barriers in education resource linkages for children birth to 5 in or at risk of entering foster care are identified.
  4. Findings are disseminated to Stakeholders and feedback sought.
  5. Project design plan is devised to include micro and macro interventions to facilitate linkages and increase protective factors for foster children.
  6. Infrastructure building: linkages improve between child welfare and early education systems.
  7. Project becomes entrenched as a lasting and valued program integrated as part of the greater C2C juvenile court unfractured.

Key Grant Activities:

  • Data collection from key stakeholders regarding early childhood resources and linkages.
  • Establish a group of Stakeholders with representation from various collaborative partners.
  • Pilot program to provide Early Head Start Home Base services to birth parents and children who were placed in out of home care. The Home Visitor utilized a parenting curriculum throughout the visits.
  • Establish pilot referral process between Glendale DCS office and Catholic Charities Head Start. Process replication between each DCS office and the head Start grantee which serves that area.
  • Piloted collaborative service model with 10 families.
  • Revision of pre-service training and advanced training for DCS Case Managers through a partnership between DCS and Arizona State University.
  • The Office of Licensing and Regulation will re-assess the training recommendations for families (including age specific training).
  • Update The Information Sharing Guide and redistribute.
  • Utilize KIDS Consortium to address agencies as a whole and provide training.
  • Build connection between Arizona Head Start Association and Child Welfare through a formal MOU.
  • Hold Child Welfare and Quality Early Education Summit.

Grant Period Accomplishments:

  • The intervention group experienced a significant improvement in family housing, children’s communication, and 100% of parents remained enrolled in the intervention service.
    • The Early Head Start services using the Growing Great Kids curriculum may help keep families engaged in their case plans, supports family-related permanency outcomes, and promotes continuous enrollment in quality early education.
  • Stakeholders showed increased collaboration over the life of the grant around the issues of quality early education for young children in foster care.
  • Pilot referral systems have anecdotally reported an increase in the number of foster children served.
  • Professional training regarding quality early education has increased.
  • The lack of knowledge and awareness of young foster children’s need for quality early education and how to locate and connect to it has been “reversed.”

Grant Period Challenges:

  • Changes in leadership and structure across the relevant departments (e.g., Child Protective Services).
  • Small size of the pilot.