Cass ‘drug court’ ready to begin

Published 3:27 am Saturday, January 24, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- As a former "nicotine user," Judge Susan Dobrich knows how difficult changing behavior can be.
Eighty percent of cases she sees in family court involve substance abuse.
Family Treatment Court, or FTC, is a comprehensive, systemic approach to treating substance-abusing parents, while maintaining the goal of reunification and meeting the requirements of the Adoptions and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997.
FTC integrates the legal process and the treatment process using a strengths-based, "wraparound" approach.
Barb Johnson, formerly with Lewis Cass Intermediate School District, is working with the court.
The judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, Family Independence Agency (FIA), Woodlands Addictions and guardian ad litem work as a "treatment team" in contradiction with the traditional adversarial or categorial approaches to services.
A treatment team can break down "confidentiality barriers" between systems.
In Reno, Nevada, of 169 participants, 74 graduated. Only two of those have been reported for new maltreatment incidents.
In Pensacola, Fla., of 39 participants, 21 graduated, resulting in reuniting 52 children with their parents. Of the 18 parents terminated from the program, 38 children were freed for adoption or permanent placement.
As to FTC cost benefits, children with parents who graduated from Suffolk, N.Y., saved $45,000 per child in reduced foster care stays.
Between $100,000 and $2.1 million has been saved annually in operating treatment courts due to the reduced need for probation, prosecution, witness fees, jail beds and attorney fees.
What is attributed to these outcomes? Diversion -- treatment instead of punishment; reduced stays of children in foster care and the residual associated costs; and low recidivism of graduates.
Additional benefits for graduates and local communities is the increased reunifcation rates; a reduction in children placed in foster care; decreases in alcohol and other drug use; decreases in recidivism, decreases in domestic violence, decreases in criminal activity and decreased problems in juvenile justice, education and health.
A challenge, Dobrich noted, is the "two competing clocks" of substance abuse recovery and child development.
Research shows that recovery from substance abuse is most effective when time spent in treatment totals at least 12 months.
Yet courts are required to begin termination of parent rights proceedings after the child has been removed from the home for 12 to 18 months.
Families can even suggest someone for the team that they trust, such as clergy.
Confidentiality laws, inevitable relapse, shifting from an adversarial to a treatment approach and the trust issues involved, waiving some of the parents' rights and client/attorney privilege pose challenges.
Examples of consequences for negative behaviors are a break from the "using" environment to get back on track in recovery, i.e., jail and increased court appearances.
Quoting from an Oct. 3 South Bend Tribune editorial, Dobrich said, "When even someone with (Rush) Limbaugh's resources, abilities and motivation can get caught in the snare of drugs, then it must be true that it can happen to anyone."