GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan program protecting kids and aiming to end multigenerational abuse is expanding.

It’s known as a baby court, a specialized track within family court, where mental health therapists work intensively to help parents and kids up to 4 years old.

“It’s important because these are the developmental milestones for a human being,” said Dorene Allen, a Midland County judge who works on baby court cases. “The first five years are absolutely critical for development physically, socially.”

Therapists are assigned to parents experiencing mental health problems, substance abuse, homelessness and more. The goal is preventing abuse and if possible, ultimately reuniting kids with their families.

“It’s wonderful to see the outcomes,” Allen said. “The outcomes that are positive as a result of this programming that can make all the difference in the world to a child.”

Thanks to a five-year federal grant, the state is expanding the program in Wayne County as well as two more Michigan counties. There will be even more in the years to come, according to a news release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Exactly where is unclear.

In a statement to News 8, a spokesperson for MDHHS explained what the selection process will be based on:

“Our expansion locations will be based on local commitment to implementation of the model – judicial leadership support, local MDHHS-Foster Care and Community Mental Health Services Program involvement/support – as well as state and local resources to support the implementation of Infant Toddler Court Program model,” the spokesperson said.

“The best thing for children is to remain with their parents whenever possible, especially in their early years when their development is critical to their long-term health and well-being,” said Demetrius Starling, executive director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Agency. “If we work together to provide resources to families, we can keep them together safely and prevent the trauma that too many kids experience.”

If parents remain unfit to take care of their children, the court turns to adoption, either by another family member or fostering.

“If it does not work out, which we know that if baby court is being used, absolutely every solution has been tried,” Allen said. “So it’s a lot of security in knowing that.”

Baby courts are already in place in Wayne, Genesee and Midland counties, where Allen says it has been a remarkable success since rolling out in 2006.

“It is just this amazing opportunity to be a part of a safety net that is irreplaceable in the development of children,” Allen said.

She said parents in her court were abused and neglected themselves.

“It’s about breaking the multigenerational cycle of abuse and neglect,” Allen said. “And it’s a fabulous program.”

Parents, jurists, attorneys and providers meet monthly, the MDHHS release said.

“All families served by Baby Court receive services that are designed to support the parent-young child attachment as well as the parent’s and child’s mental health,” the release states. “Research shows that Baby Courts help states meet standards set by the federal government for safety, permanency and well-being and eliminate racial disparities in timely receipt of services or rates of reunification.”

Allen said the program can be put into place quickly, but it takes two to three years to really start seeing a measurable effect. She also said it could make a big impact in Kent County.

“Kent County, I would expect they’d be high on the list of the people who would want it,” Allen said. “This is a critical opportunity to be able to provide the milestones supports for a human being at the point of infancy, which is spectacular.”