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Rutherford County Safe Baby Court has first graduate from program

The Middle Tennessee county is the first in the country with a program that focuses purely on prevention cases.

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. — A new program in the Midstate hopes to keep more families together.

It's called Safe Baby Court and it's now in Rutherford County. It’s been around since last June. 

Right now, 16 families are part of the program. News4 was there for the special moment when a mother graduated and was reunited with her children on Friday.

"You're the one that's going to set the bar,” Judge Donna Scott Davenport said to the graduate.

The graduate is the first for the Rutherford County Safe Baby Court.

"It's my honor to give you your certified copies that you are exiting safe baby court,” Judge Davenport said.

Davenport is the judge for the program.

"They've got to show up and they've got to put in the effort and to see her look so fabulous today and with those babies and them all over her, it's a feeling, it's why I do the job,” Judge Davenport said.

It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating with cupcakes and toys.

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts said this is the only program in the country to focus purely on prevention cases. "Our goal is to never ever have them with a stranger,” Judge Davenport said.

It’s all to prevent children from experiencing trauma.

Here's how it works. The Department of Children's Services has to get involved first. Once they file a petition to remove children from a home, they get in touch with the Safe Baby Court coordinator.

"The families here need to be reunified. They need us to prevent that trauma or try to reduce it as much as possible,” Carrie Niederhauser, Rutherford County Safe Baby Court Coordinator said.

Instead of entering the foster care system, children are placed with a relative or close family friend. They go through a screening process.

The program is for families who have a child under three years old.

"It's not for everyone because it's very intensive,” Niederhauser said.

The voluntary program involves meeting every month and that includes a court hearing. Throughout the process, parents struggling with addiction or mental health issues get help.

The focus is to reunify them with their children.

"Our children have so much trauma. Separation is always a trauma,” Judge Davenport said.

The program coordinator tells News4 they have more graduations on the horizon. They'll possibly happen in the next couple of months.