Documentary highlights FSU center’s work to improve state child-welfare system

Florida State University’s Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy staff, in partnership with faculty and alumni from the College of Motion Picture Arts, has created a documentary to highlight the struggles and hopes of five families and court team staff in the child-welfare system. 

Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy,
Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy.

Florida’s Early Childhood Courts: Hope and Healing,” part of a larger project to develop training resources for court systems in Florida, showcases the important court program that Mimi Graham, director of the Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, brought to Florida. The next phase of the project is a series of training videos produced by Florida State University’s Seminole Productions.

“Florida’s Early Childhood Courts, fondly referred to as ‘Baby Courts,’ are a powerful combination of judicial leadership, a supportive, non-adversarial multidisciplinary team and provide expert clinical guidance,” Graham said. “This short documentary captures the real soul of baby court. 

Graham brought the first Early Childhood Court to Florida in 2013 in partnership with Florida’s Office of the State Courts Administrator; the courts are now statewide with 27 sites.  

“These courts create better outcomes for babies and toddlers,” she said. “More reunifications, less time in the system, quicker time to permanency and less re-abuse.” Graham said the center strives to ensure that all infants and toddlers are healthy, equipped to learn, and nurtured to develop their full potential. 

“The center investigates what interventions are most effective and translates the related research findings into public policy and programs, including Early Childhood Courts, she said. 

The documentary was produced by Antonio Mendez in the College of Motion Picture Arts with camera work from Mark Vargo, also of the film school. In addition, three former film school graduates worked on the project: Julio Vargas (sound), Chris Violette (photography and post-production) and Evan Barber (gaffer/assistant). It exemplifies a collaborative FSU project. 

“We were excited to be able to contribute to this important look at how early childhood courts can affect the lives of vulnerable Floridians,” said Reb Braddock, dean of the College of Motion Picture Arts. “We are proud to be able to offer our students, alumni and faculty the opportunity to partner with industry and other units in the university on meaningful projects through our Torchlight Center, which is designed to offer a bridge between education and industry.” 

The documentary was made possible through the support of the center’s court partner, the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator, and the national policy center, ZERO TO THREE. The program was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

To watch “Florida’s Early Childhood Courts: Hope and Healing,” visit