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Family drug court aimed toward uniting families

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Law enforcement and human resources officials in Escambia County are teaming in a new effort to reduce drug addiction among families — and reunite parents and children.
On Friday, Escambia County District Judge Dave Jordan will preside over the 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 — a group of human resources, law enforcement and health experts in the county who meet quarterly to discuss children’s issues — initiated the family drug court through a task force set up late last summer.
CPC members knew that the biggest problem they discussed at each meeting was substance abuse — and its effect on children and families.
The task force began its work toward a family drug court by visiting 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 seeing 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.
Beyond the teamwork of child advocates and the accountability tools the court provides, they key to the success of family drug court will be the participants themselves, Jordan said.