Family drug courts can protect Kentucky children, but support for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting is still limited.

Chloe Downs became addicted to heroin and fentanyl when Child Protective Services took her children into custody – she said the intervention would happen quickly.

“My kids don’t care,” Downs said. “I can see now that they are really suffering more than I can realize in the situation I am in.”

When she reached the peak of her addiction in 2019, she found the 37-year-old mother of four praying for help.

Chali Downs

Charlie Downs, 37, graduated from Jefferson County’s Family Recovery Court in 2021.

“I just called God and I said ‘I do not know what you are going to do or what you are not going to do, but God,'” she said, “please do anything.

Two days later, a CPS worker knocked on her door.

Given a chance, she says Downs saved her and her children’s lives – a position in Jefferson County’s Family Recovery Court, one of two programs designed to reunite families and help parents overcome drug abuse. Clay County in southeast Kentucky has the only family restoration court in the state.

Advocates say Family Recovery Courts – also known as Family Drug Courts – are crucial in protecting children from abuse and neglect, which are often accompanied by addiction. In fact, Nearly half of all Kentucky children who die or are seriously injured as a result of abuse in 2020 also experience substance abuse in their home.S.

Despite their controversial impact on child protection, and despite the high rates of child abuse and opioid abuse in Kentucky in the country, family recovery courts are still not widely available statewide.

The state has previously funded several family drug courts, but they were eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts. Now, a decade later, the state legislature has decided to restore some of these funds – but only in Jefferson County.

Although this restoration of state funds, though limited, was a step in the right direction, attorneys said funding for these courts would have been available in more counties across the state, especially during the budget year. $ 1 billion was not spent.

For six consecutive years in his annual report, State Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel It asked the state to expand family restoration courts across Kentucky – a recommendation that has largely been ignored, they said.

He has been a forensic pediatrician and a member of the panel since it was created by the Kentucky Legislature in 2012. “We need more action,” Melissa Curie said. “Long-term, Family Drug Court results reduce parental employment and certainly child abuse and neglect.”

Experts say the benefits outweigh the costs

The Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel reviews the details of hundreds of serious cases each year and is charged with making recommendations to the state that could lead to the death or death of a child and prevent such cases.

“The vast majority of our cases are considered preventable,” Curie said.

Substance abuse in families continues to be a major risk factor in child abuse cases reviewed by the panel. And its annual Report Shows that families struggling with substance abuse are also more likely to deal with mental health issues, poverty and domestic violence.

“It should be a priority to show funding,” Curie said. “There should be a better understanding of the potential benefits of Family Drug Court in preventing parental imprisonment and improving their access to assistance and keeping them clean and smart.”

But with advisory powers alone, Curie said there was only so much the panel could do to convince the state to take action. She is concerned that many of the agencies mentioned in these recommendations may not review them at all.

“There is no need to force agencies or really nothing to see what the report says,” she says.

To address this issue, the Kentucky Legislature passed Receipt This week state agencies will be required to respond to recommendations and state plans to implement them or state reasons why they are reluctant to do so.

The Child Death Panel specifically recommends that the administrative office of state courts be responsible for developing a budget proposal for the expansion of family restoration courts. The same agency that had to reduce them in the budget 12 years ago.

Prior to this, Family Drug Courts were available in several locations across the state, including Louisville and Lexington. But in 2010, Kentucky’s Department of Justice faced a budget deficit of $ 7 million, resulting in the elimination of many programs that were considered unnecessary.

According to former Chief Judge of the Jefferson County Family Court Patricia Walker Fitzgerald, family drug courts have long paid to return.

“The legislature must be committed to funding the drug courts,” she said. “The traditional ways in which courts resolve family issues are not effective. We will be very, very late. ”

Cindy Kamer, a court liaison for Seven Counties Services, which assists overseeing the program in Jefferson County, said the cost of running family recovery courts across the state is more than long-term value.

According to a cost analysis of Jefferson County’s program, the program generates significant savings when it comes to operating costs, including substance – exposure births, out-of-home care for children, prison and probation, and emergency room expenses. Visits and Medicaid.

The result is a total savings of more than $ 800,000 – and that’s only in Jefferson County.

Injury-known approach to recovery

Family Rehabilitation Courts focus on the welfare of abused and neglected children, while at the same time providing parents with the assistance they need to resolve their addiction. The court currently has two judges and partners with state agencies and community organizations to provide resources such as substance abuse therapy, parenting classes, treatment and, if necessary, housing, transportation and employment assistance.

Kentucky has had no family renewal courts for almost a decade. Jefferson County’s Family Recovery Court reopened in 2019 after raising nearly $ 600,000 to fund the National Council of Jewish Women program.

After many years of advocacy, the court finally earned a place in the state budget through the community-based services department. According to the budget approved by the General Assembly, the court will receive $ 375,000 each year for the next two years.

A second court was opened in Clay County last year after receiving a federal, three-year grant with the help of American volunteers. State funding for this program is currently unavailable.

“While other drug courts are really punishable in nature, we’re really focusing on a positive reinforcement model and still holding participants accountable,” said Cindy Comer, court licensee for Seven Counties Services, which helps oversee the program.

Jaundice says the program is centered around trauma resuscitation for both parents and children.

“We have found that substance abuse does not happen in a vacuum and parents do not just wake up one day and decide to live their lives like this,” she said.

Participants learn how their past experiences have led to their current behaviors, as well as how their current behaviors have created difficulties for their children.

“They will learn how to fix it to make sure we are not creating this multi-generational injury system,” Comer said.

Effect

When Chalie Downs was brought into the program in 2019, she suffered much of her own injury. And lived at home with drug abuse when she was growing up.

“I experienced a lot. And it got to the level of usability [drugs] It’s like you and I’m breathing air right now, “Downs said.” You need oxygen to survive. “

Downs has been sober for two years now, has a job at Voice of the Commonwealth and has since been granted child custody or partial custody. And they are thriving.

“I can’t go back. My children are the reason I work so hard every day to get up and go, ”she said. “My main goal is to make sure they have a strong foundation so that they can succeed and be better than me.”

The Family Recovery Court model is also different from regular drug courts or CPS cases because, in addition to the 18-month program, they also work closely with participants to ensure they are safely returning to parenthood.

“Some of them are sober for the first time in their lives,” Comer said. “And they don’t always have support, because a lot of them had to cut them. So we’ll be involved even after the kids come back.

According to national data from the Center for Children and Family Futures, parents attending a family recovery court are twice as likely to complete addiction treatment and reunite with their children.

Since 2019, Jefferson County’s program has served 140 children and 46 of them have reunited with their families.

“We know what an impact this will have on our communities, especially when you look at the rates of child abuse and neglect in Kentucky,” Comer said. “So a small percentage reduction would be very effective for us.”

Contact Jasmine Demers at Jdemers@kycir.org.

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