How this California court is giving drug-addicted parents a second chance
Posted August 29, 2016
An innovative program in Sacramento, California, is giving drug-addicted parents a second chance to get clean while keeping their families intact.
The Early Intervention Family Drug Court is a unique partnership among Sacramento County’s Department of Health and Human Services, Child Protective Services and the Behavioral Health Services department — an initiative that works to keep families together while parents seek addiction treatment.
The EIFDC essentially functions as an administrative court, offering up an alternative model that balances both rehabilitation and child protection.
"Like all Family Drug Courts, the purpose of EIFDC is to protect the safety and welfare of children while providing the resources parents need to become sober, responsible caregivers," reads a description on the program's website.
Rather than seeing their children be sent immediately into the foster care system, addicted parents are able to enter the EIFDC, where they are supervised and monitored while seeking various treatment regimens.
The six-month program, which has been in use in Sacramento for the past six years, more specifically includes monthly court sessions, random drug tests, regular group meetings, parenting classes and home visits — a rigorous plan that measures and mandates compliance.
One of the benefits of the process is that children are spared from an often traumatic foster care experience — as long as their parents abide by the rules. Failing to do so could send the adults to a formal court, with their children at risk of being put in the foster care system, NPR reported.
The results differ per person, with only one-third of the parents who volunteer to enter the court graduating the program. Still, the initiative is being heralded by government officials as a success story.
"Results from the program evaluation unequivocally demonstrate the program’s success leading to decrease in trauma for children, an increase in cost savings, and a decrease in case load," according to a government description of the court.
Take, for instance, the story of a 20-year-old woman whom NPR identified only as "Emma." After becoming addicted to methamphetamine at age 16, she eventually transitioned to heroin. Then, after getting pregnant, her baby, Cailynn, was born testing positive for opioids; initially, authorities took the child away.
But Emma wanted Cailynn back, so she entered the EIFDC court, got her baby back and has thus far been compliant with the rules and regulations.
"I regret every moment of it," she told the outlet. "It's hard. But I've got to keep my head up and keep going."
At least one statistic does appear to show a stark difference between those parents who decide to enter the EIFDC and those who do not.
Consider that 30 percent of the children whose parents aren't in the program are eventually removed from their homes, compared with just 10 percent of children whose families take part in the court, according to NPR.
It's also a cost saver, as it is estimated that Sacramento County saves $7 million per year as a result.
Other states and counties have similar family drug court initiatives, with Children and Family Futures, an organization that monitors and offers information about the family court system, reporting there are now around 325 operating across the country.
A similar effort is now available in Texas courtrooms, though NPR reported that some family courts don't begin working with parents and children until after the children enter the foster care system.
Another effort by a group called Safe Families for Children helps save children from the foster care system by partnering with local churches to connect caring parishioners with families struggling with drugs, incarceration and issues.
It's essentially a measure in which children are placed with a supportive family on a strictly temporary basis.
"Safe Families, by allowing a parent to place their children with a safe, supportive host family, protects kids by removing them from unstable situations, ensuring that they are well cared for until the issues are addressed and stability is achieved at home," Andrew Brown, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability, told The Blaze last year.
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