On any given day, blood curdling screams of abused and neglected children being separated from their parents, caretakers and siblings can be heard ricocheting through the halls of Miami-Dade juvenile court.

But amid the chaos and confusion, something astonishing is taking place and it’s because of a judge who has one thing on her mind, the brains of babies who come before the bench.

Judge Cindy Lederman spoke to CBS4’S Michele Gillen.

“What we have learned from the research is that the brains of abused and neglected children are different,” Lederman said. “There are formations that are possible, that never happen. That lack, absence that we see, have ramifications for the rest of the lives of these children.”

Lederman is presiding judge of Miami-Dade juvenile court and she’s pioneering territory that could help change, possibly reverse, the course of how the nation treats abandoned and abused children and perhaps how they ultimately treat you.

We now know from the explosion of research of brain development that the early years are absolutely crucial. We used to ignore infants and toddlers when they came into court, because we didn’t understand the science,” she said. “[We thought] they will get over it, if they are harmed how would we know because they can’t speak. We were so very, very wrong, well meaning, but very wrong.”

Lederman went on to say, “and as a result, we so missed a tremendous opportunity to change the course of these infants, babies and toddlers minds.”

There are images that are now rocking the world of many child rights advocates and judges. They are X-rays of the brains of abused and neglected children and how they develop from birth to age 3.

At issue, when a child particularly between birth and age 3 is denied love, touch, attachment. The growth of neurons in the frontal lobes seems to be stunted. The area of the brain associated with empathy, having an ability to care for others, that’s called attachment disorder.

“And when you have an attachment disorder, you do not have the ability to relate to people, to be empathetic, and in effect what we are doing is creating monsters, and it’s a really horrible thing,” says Judge Steven Leifman, assistant administrative judge for Miami-Dade County circuit court.

He is also one of the nation’s leading mental health advocates.

“And when they don’t have that attachment to another human being, there are parts of the brain that don’t develop and it causes huge problems later on for the child,” he said.

Leifman says the latest research is staggering because it means juvenile court systems around the country have unwittingly damaged children in foster care by purposely preventing attachments.

“It is particularly acute in the foster care system and one of the things that we realized, again, the court in advertently contributed to the problem, because we felt that we didn’t want children to become too attached, that it would do more harm than good if they got attached then we’d move them. So for a long time we kept moving the kids around the foster care system.”

Leifman now knows they did the absolutely wrong thing and that attachment is the most important thing. Now they try not to move the kids around.

There is dramatic and immediate proof of attachment disorder through something called Still Face Experiment. It captures a loving mom interacting with her trusting, smiling baby. When the mom puts an expressionless look on her face, refusing to show any compassion, interest or love, the child is visibly stunned and appears confused and in pain.

Judge Lederman believes, “We see the deterioration in that baby just because the fullness of that interaction is not there. That baby really reacts to it. Every time I see that, I am frightened because the babies in my court, its chronic neglect.”

In Miami, they’re trying to fix the problem in a novel way. It’s a joint effort between the courts and a first of its kind child-infant evaluation, treatment and study center. There, babies in transition from ages 0 to 3 have a caretaker and a home away from home to attach to.

Dr. Lynn Katz, is director of the Linda Ray Intervention Center in Miami, which is at the forefront of applying this new knowledge, but thy do have limited resources, and limited loving hands to help out.

“So we feel sad when we have children on a waiting list, we feel sad when children are waiting to be in a best practice setting, but we can only do all we can do, so part of the struggle is getting the word out that the early years matter,” said Katz.

The number of children referred to child protection agencies nationwide is staggering, almost three million children per year. Half a million children a year are removed from their homes and the court assumes the legal role of parent. In Miami-Dade County alone, this translates to 9,000 children annually, many of them infants. In Miami, 27 percent of the hildren in foster care are under the age of 5.

Source: CBS 4, FL