A couple of weeks ago the Minneapolis StarTribune published an editorial extolling the virtues of Drug Courts. (StarTribune, July 5, 2012) The first Drug Court started in Hennepin County in 1997. Today there are 38 Drug Courts in Minnesota. Recently the results of a two-and-a half-year study have been released showing that intensive treatment centered drug court programs are more likely than prison or incarceration to improve lives of those persons struggling with chemical addictions and that they save taxpayers money.
Drug Courts are one of a group of courts which have come to be known as problem solving courts. These courts use intensive treatment and supervision along with judicial involvement to help people deal with their disease of chemical addiction.
Family Dependency Treatment Court is another type of problem solving court which uses an intensive treatment program with supervision and judicial involvement to help parents deal with chemical dependency problems that affect their ability to care for their children. If a local county human services office receives a complaint alleging neglect or mistreatment of a child, the county will investigate the situation. If the circumstances warrant, the county may file a petition seeking to have the child or children declared as children in need of protection or services (CHIPS) thereby triggering county services and supervision. In the most severe case of neglect or abuse, the children may be removed from the home.
Unfortunately, often times the parents involved in these CHIPS proceedings have severe chemical dependency issues which cause them to be unable to care for their children and may result in them losing custody of their children. Family Dependency Treatment Court has been created to help parents with a chemical dependency problem and who have lost custody of their children get their children back.
Like Drug Court, Family Dependency Treatment court is an intensive judicially supervised treatment program where the parents are given the opportunity to change their lives and get their children back. The parents must enroll in a treatment program, get a job, obtain safe, sober housing, and attend support groups and parenting classes. The court, human services and members of the FDTC team help them achieve those goals. The ultimate goal is to return the children to a safe and sober home.
I am involved in the Blue Earth County Family Dependency Treatment Court, one of two Family Dependency Treatment Courts currently operating in southwestern Minnesota (the other FDTC provides services to Faribault, Martin, and Jackson counties). In our court the parent or parents who enter the program are immediately enrolled in a treatment program. The participants are assisted in getting a job, cleaning up their house or finding a new home and improving their parenting skills. As soon as possible the children are returned to the safe, sober home while the parent continues to make progress in FDTC. The program lasts approximately 12 months. If at that time the parent has accomplished the tasks needed to graduate from FDTC; the county's involvement ends.
Like Drug Courts, Family Dependency Treatment Courts work. I have seen families reunited in a safe, sober home. When that happens it is a joy to behold and a benefit to everyone, most importantly the children and their parents.