Family treatment court continues

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK The Belmont County Family Dependency Treatment Court team is continuing to offer treatment to help parents battling drug addiction reunite with their children. People involved with the effort include, from left: Diane Elerick and Kara Mowery, court staff; Allison Powell, probation officer with the juvenile court; Amy Faulkner, case manager with Children Services; Dave Carter, court staff; Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Al Davies. Rhonda Greenwood, Children Services attorney at the Belmont County Prosecutor’s Office; and Jill Saner, therapist with The Village Network, are seated.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A specialized court that aims to reunite local families received recertification from the state’s high court and will continue its work in Belmont County.

Belmont County Juvenile and Probate Judge Al Davies took over management of the Belmont County Family Dependency Treatment Court when he took office as judge last year. The program dates from 2005 and was recently renewed to continue to offer options for drug addicted parents to be rehabilitated and reunited with their children.

“It is a specialized court. Specialized courts provide judges an opportunity to address many of the societal issues affecting our communities,” Davies said. “We have our drug court, we have our veterans court, we now have a mental health court. The Belmont County Family Dependency Treatment Court in the juvenile court was one of the first specialized courts to be approved by the Ohio Supreme Court to receive certification.”

He added that recertification is required every three years or when a new judge takes office.

“Because I came into office last August, that triggered the recertification process. Recertification is very thorough. It does include an on-site visit from a representative from the (state) who actually comes down, observes a live courtroom session and then makes comment, provides input to us.”

Davies said the court was recertified June 24.

“When the representative from the Supreme Court viewed our live in-court session she was very, very impressed with the way we were operating the court,” he said. “She did have some constructive suggestions we’ve definitely took to heart and definitely implemented.”

He said while the parents involved do not have criminal charges pending against them, their issues have caused a separation from their children. Participation in the program is voluntary.

“The participants in the Family Dependency Treatment Court are parents who are battling substance abuse problems and who have cases pending against them where their child or children have been adjudicated, abused, neglected. These parents are offered the opportunity to participate in the Family Dependency Treatment Court. If they choose to do so, the program requirements become a part of their case plan, which they need to satisfy to be eligible for reunification with their child or children,” Davies explained.

He said the program involves about a year-long effort and consists of four stages, with each stage being three months long. Participating parents are subject to regular drug testing, intense counseling and strict supervision by court staff. They appear before the court every two weeks for a review of their status.

“The goal is two-fold, trying to break the cycle of substance abuse in families by providing treatment to parents who are facing loss or restriction of parental rights, and also to try and foster family reunification,” Davies said.

The majority of counseling is done through The Village Network, and participants are encouraged to seek out positive social activities, including 12-step programs or church meetings.

“The success of this court is the result of our partners. That includes Children Services, that includes the network, and that includes the very, very dedicated court staff that we have at the juvenile court. I’m thankful we have some really great people to assist me with this court,” he said. “This program has been in effect for almost 15 years now.”

“We usually, on an annual basis, have five sets of parents that go through,” he said, adding that the numbers hold steady. “When one leaves, another one comes on board. … There might be some setbacks along the way, so some of these folks might be in there longer than a year.

“We have a pretty good success rate. We’ve had some amazing stories where parents who are highly addicted … to fentanyl, heroin, meth, things of that nature, we’ve been able to get them the necessary treatment that they need,” he said. “We’ve had more success than failures in regards to the operation of this court.”

Davies said the court mainly deals with people addicted to substances such as fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. He added that with the ongoing drug epidemic, the need for such services is only increasing.

“We’ve got parents who are drug-addicted and invested with responsibility for very young children. It’s a dangerous situation,” he said. “I wish everybody would take advantage of the opportunity to enter this program.”

“It is underutilized,” Dave Carter, a court staffer, said. “We get about three referrals for every case that actually makes it into the program. A lot of that is because people just aren’t willing to do it. They’ll give custody to a relative. They’ll let Children Services have custody because they’re just not willing to get the help they need at this point. I think that’s kind of sad.”

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