02/20/06 — Court offers chance to rebuild families

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Court offers chance to rebuild families

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on February 20, 2006 1:47 PM

A first-phase graduate of the new Wayne County Family Drug Treatment Court paid tribute to the intensive program that she says has helped her put her life back together.

"If it weren't for this program, I wouldn't be here today," said Clara, who was not completely identified to protect her privacy. "I'm trying to do my best."

Clara was introduced by District Court Judge Rose Williams, who conducts the twice-a-month court hearings in the County Administration Building, a less-formal setting than a regular courtroom.

"We're proud of what she has accomplished in difficult circumstances," the judge said.

Clara now will enter a second, or less restrictive, phase of her treatment. If she is successful, she will graduate to the third, or final, phase when she may see her children more often. The entire program will take about 12 to 18 months.

Family Drug Treatment Court is held on Thursday afternoons every other week. Its goal is to provide intensive judicial support to people who might lose or have lost custody of their children because of drug, alcohol or substance abuse.

Mrs. Williams updated members of the court's steering committee and other guests recently on the progress of the 6-month-old program during a luncheon meeting.

The new court is a collaborative effort among the court system, Department of Social Services, or DSS, and area mental health agencies. The court assists parents who have come to the court's attention in DSS Court proceedings because of abuse, neglect, dependency or a parent's unwillingness or inability to parent because of substance abuse.

Seven people have been served by the program so far. Four were released, however, for continuing to test positive for drugs, alcohol or substance abuse, said April Dilda, the court coordinator. The clients are not released because of one positive result, she said, but only for a series of positive tests over several months.

In DSS Court, Mrs. Williams said she might see the offenders only every three or four months. Now, she sees them much more often. Each gets a personalized treatment plan. The participants get frequent drug testing, attend mandatory support group meetings and receive intensive case management. If the participants succeed, then they might get their children back.

The new court could save money eventually for the county. Mrs. Williams noted that the county pays about $45,000 a month for the foster care of children taken from bad family situations.

Those involved in the new Family Drug Treatment Court were trained last summer. When the training was completed, Wayne County received a federal grant through the Governor's Crime Commission to be the third county to conduct the court, joining Mecklenburg and Durham. Now a handful of other counties have similar programs. The judge said the county received funding for another year.

Participants are referred by the courts, said Chief District Court Judge Joe Setzer. Some don't make it, he admitted, but said they receive all the help possible.

"Nationwide, the family drug court has been successful," Mrs. Williams said. The purpose, she said, is to bring the parent and child together in a drug- and alcohol-free home.

Drugs affect everyone in the community -- the courts, law enforcement and ultimately the children, she said.

"Anything we can do to prevent that can make all the difference," Mrs. Williams said.