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DCF Looking to Bring Family Drug Court to Florida as an Intervention Method

| September 7, 2013

Courting a better way to keep addiction-riddled families together. (Melissa Bowman)

Courting a better way to keep addiction-riddled families together. (Melissa Bowman)

It’s been a maxim at the Florida Department of Children and Families that if there were no substance abuse or mental illness, the agency could shut its doors.

But with substance abuse still threatening to overwhelm child-welfare systems like Florida’s, officials are looking at drug courts for troubled families as a way to address the problem.

Substance abuse is usually a factor in child abuse and neglect cases — from 60 percent to 80 percent of them. And most methods of reuniting families after parents lose custody of their children due to drugs or alcohol aren’t very successful.

“People are hungry for therapeutic interventions that are going to help families and children,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri-Beth Cohen, who presides over dependency drug-court cases in the 11th Judicial Circuit. “And what we’ve been doing for many years in this state and across the country hasn’t worked.”

Cohen, who started a dependency drug court in Miami-Dade in 1999, said most substance-abuse treatment programs only succeed in reunifying families about 15 percent of the time. For dependency drug courts, more than 50 percent of participating parents clean up and regain custody of their children.

“In Florida we know that very few of these families can get reunified with their children and stay reunified,” Cohen said. “And the only thing that seems to be working in this arena is drug court.”

As an indication of the interest in the issue, a workshop on drug courts for troubled families drew a standing-room-only crowd last week at a DCF Child Protection Summit in Orlando. Child abuse and neglect also has been a high-profile issue in recent weeks after a series of child deaths.

Cohen warned that dependency drug courts don’t work without intensive monitoring and support services.

A big part of the reason why they work is that they use frequent drug tests and sanctions for failed tests. A 2007 study showed that participants who were subjected to more frequent drug screens remained in treatment longer and were more likely to complete it. And parents who completed treatment were five times more likely to be reunified with their children.

That’s important for the children of addicted parents for many reasons — even beyond the desire of most youngsters to be with their mothers and fathers.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Maltreated children of parents with substance use disorders are more likely to have poorer physical, intellectual, social, and emotional outcomes. They are at greater risk of developing substance use problems themselves. They are more likely to be placed in foster care and to remain there longer than maltreated children of parents without substance use problems.”

Additionally, substance abuse is often accompanied by domestic violence, brushes with the law, drains on the family finances and heightened stress for parents already struggling to function.

Often, child-welfare professionals are racing the clock to help families reunify. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires that a hearing to decide a child’s permanent placement be held 12 months after he or she enters foster care.

“People in child welfare feel an urgency to find interventions, to find programs, to find collaborations that work well in prescribed timelines, because we only have 12 to 15 months to reunite families,” Cohen said.

There are 350 family drug courts and 2,500 criminal drug courts nationwide.

Supporters also say family drug courts have proven to be cost-effective — thanks to a reduced reliance on foster care and the criminal justice system. The costs for family drug courts range from $7,000 to $14,000 per family, depending on the services needed, and save from $5,000 to $13,000 per family.

Florida families struggling with substance abuse will also get better support when the Florida Safe Families Network is fully up and running in the next few months, according to DCF Assistant Deputy Secretary for Operations Pete Digre. The computer network will enable child-welfare professionals to have access to the latest data about families with whom they work.

Digre said DCF has used family-intervention specialists to work with child-protective investigators and case managers to get families into substance abuse treatment, but that approach has often failed.

“We had a problem of ships passing in the night,” he said. “The family would not cooperate with the family intervention specialist, and because the loop was not closed, the child-protective investigator and the case manager wouldn’t know. The family would drop out and nobody would be the wiser.”

Soon, Digre said, the computer network will be notifying frontline child-welfare professionals when a family doesn’t follow through on substance-abuse counseling.

“At that point we have to take action, and we’ll have plenty of grounds to file a court petition either to get an in-home court order or to shelter the child because the addiction is just not getting dealt with,” he said.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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5 Responses for “DCF Looking to Bring Family Drug Court to Florida as an Intervention Method”

  1. nomad says:

    “It’s been a maxim at the Florida Department of Children and Families that if there were no substance abuse or mental illness, the agency could shut its doors.”

    And that means many will be out of their government safe jobs…can’t have that, can we? So let’s keep the the population of addicts and mentally ill successful at procreating.

    This is synonymous to folks employed as prison guards. The prison guard union pushes for higher incarceration rates to guarantee employment for its union members. So let’s keeping the incarcerated population successful at procreating and feeding the school to prison pipeline.

    And let’s conspire to convince these procreating folks that they are doing society a huge favor by bringing their children into the world because, you know, without these kids society would collapse.

  2. Gia says:

    A waist of time & $$$$ for many years. You’re not going to stop somebody who wants to use drug & die, he/she should do it faster. The world will be better off without them anyway.
    The gov are telling us they knows where all the drugs came from, instead going in Ira or Syria they should go @ the drug locations & burn everything.

  3. Anonymous says:

    @nomad says–As a Social Worker, licensed and certified, who worked in the field for MANY years, I can tell you, most emphatically, that you are, quite simply, wrong. Will there be people who will remain impervious to help and for whom these interventions will not work. For sure! But, there are some for whom it WILL work and you can’t always tell which will be which. Your reasoning seems to be to throw out the baby with the bath water…Let’s not waste time and money on treatment because we have no guarantees that it will work. How many things in life do YOU know about that have 100% iron-clad guarantees? These are real human beings we are talking about…people you might know and care about, although you might not like to think it could ever happen that way. There are children at serious risk here! Innocent children will be born into these situations whether you approve or not. Once they are here, do you think we should punish them with apathy and turning our heads away in personal disgust, because of the way we feel about their parents? I have heard heart-breaking stories from people who have done unspeakable things while under the influence of drugs and alcohol who can barely believe, once sober, what they have done. Once clean, they can be literally different people. The ones who continue to abuse the system should, in no way, be coddled or left to their own devices to do more harm. There should be clear-cut guidelines from the get-go to address this. If offenders abuse the chances they are given and show themselves to be solely interested in “playing the system”, that has to be dealt with appropriately. Nobody wants to give anyone free reign to continue to be predatory, stupid or cruel. But if we don’t give treatment a chance, then we will continue to pay exorbitant costs, both in human terms and fiscal ones. The children stuck in the middle pay the highest price of all…Then, guess what happens? All too often, THEY become abusers in the future. I strongly feel we should give treatment a chance but use both the carrot AND the stick and do it right–not in some half-ass fashion and not for five minutes before giving up. If done properly, we may be able to salvage generations to come, not just the individuals and families targeted for intervention now.

  4. brian says:

    you do the crime, you do the time..its pretty simple..except in flagler county and the rest of the usa..oy vey

  5. Sherry Epley says:

    And the heartless, soul less haters of human beings manage to spread their self loathing in these comments yet again. Karma has an interesting way of balancing these things out. . . be careful about that poison you spew, it may just bounce back and bring you great pain. I sincerely hope the social services you are completely against will be there for you when (not if) you need them to heal your tortured mind.

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