The child abuse and neglect reports Edmund Dane hears as Nassau County Family Court's supervising judge can be graphic and include photos of bruises and welts on even the youngest clients.
"I try to detach myself when I leave the building so I don't take this home with me," Dane said Thursday. "During the day, it's pretty intense."
But under a new program he's spearheading, court officials and child advocates are hoping the youngest children in the foster care system will have a better chance at finding a safe, permanent place to grow up without bouncing between caretakers.
Authorities said the program, called Babies Can't Wait, will start this month and create a specialty track for foster care children ranging from infants through age 5.
The idea is to emphasize more frequent collaboration among those who play a role in figuring out a permanent placement for a child, whether that means returning to the birth family or adoption by a foster family.
To do that, a team that includes the county Department of Social Services, infant mental health specialists from Adelphi University's Institute for Parenting and attorneys for both the child and the birth parent will meet every month. Those meetings had been happening every six months and didn't include Adelphi.
The parties will then report to Dane two days after the meetings and continue to work toward a plan to place a child in a forever home.
"With a baby, in six months they've developed quite a bit . . . a lot of bonding time is missed," said Marcy Safyer, director of Adelphi's parenting institute.
Safyer said Adelphi specialists, who have worked with the child welfare system, will be part of the team meetings and will perform developmental and mental health evaluations on the children.
Adelphi experts also will provide therapy for each child that is to include either a birth parent or foster parent. Safyer said the effort is focused on helping a child recover from abuse or neglect that can manifest in trouble sleeping, tantrums and language delays, along with teaching parents how to be more nurturing.
Court officials said about one in five children who go into foster care are infants. They tend to have more developmental, emotional and medical disorders.
"If you address these issues like this when kids are young, you can give them better outcomes the rest of their lives," said Maria Lauria, director of Children's Services at Nassau County Department of Social Services.
She said Thursday that local officials studied programs in Florida and Louisiana while creating the local initiative and that about 55 children a year fit into the age category that the program will focus on.
Donna McCabe, who chairs a family court committee for the Nassau County Bar Association, said the program will give birthparents more tools to get their children back because of the more frequent hearings.
Dane said he knows the program won't fix every family.
But the Family Court judge is hoping it will be a guide for some of them.
"We involve the parents more," Dane said. "They have a real road map of what they can do for the return of the child."