Family reunions: New drug court aims to heal families

Published 5:57 am Wednesday, February 27, 2008

By By Kerry Whipple Bean – publisher
Last summer, Escambia County children's advocates were weary.
At meeting after meeting of the Children's Policy Council - a group of law enforcement, health and social work experts who meet regularly to discuss ways to improve the lives of children in the county - they discussed the ways that drugs were hurting local children.
One of the biggest problems, they said, was the addiction of parents.
On Friday, Jordan will preside over Escambia County's first family drug court, a civil court that aims to heal families by holding drug-addicted parents accountable for their recovery - and get them reunited with their children.
Jordan's court is modeled in some ways after the county's adult criminal drug court, headed by Judge Bradley Byrne.
But the adults involved in the family drug court won't be typical criminal defendants. Referred by the Department of Human Resources after losing custody of their children because of addiction, they will be voluntary participants.
But part of their pact with the court is that if they fail a drug test, Jordan can send them to jail.
Treatment and regular drug tests will be part of that accountability process. But job skills and other training will also be included in the program.
The Children's Policy Council task force that initiated the family drug court visited two other similar courts in Alabama before formulating its own program.
Gail Cooper, who with fellow DHR social worker Irene Johnson will serve as drug court co-coordinator, said watching the success of courts in Calhoun and Madison counties convinced her that the program could make a difference.
A family drug court is a new way to solve an old problem, Johnson said - one that affects not just parents who lose their children but the entire community.
DHR Director Lynn Barnes said the family drug court's mission of uniting parents and children will also alleviate the burden placed on the foster care system and on family members who take in children removed from their parents' home.
Barnes, like others involved in the family drug court program, believes that combination of accountability and treatment will be the better way to approach the problem.
Ruth Harrell, a CPC member who was a driving force behind the task force, said she is happy to see the family drug court come to fruition.
Beyond the teamwork of child advocates and the accountability tools the court provides, the key to the success of family drug court will be the participants themselves, Jordan said.
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