A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Terrance Sullivan: Louisville’s family recovery court back after 10 years, addresses whole-family issues

Family is important. When a member of the family is going through a hard time, the rest of the family shares in that struggle, and when the family experiences successes, the rest of the family can revel in that joy as well.

In light of the rise in substance use disorders both nationally and especially here in Kentucky, many families are facing more of those low times and, unfortunately, the children in those families also suffer. The negative impact can be seen in the children with declining performance in school and increased depression. This can be exacerbated if a parent who is struggling with substance use happens to be arrested and incarcerated due to their addiction.

Recently, the National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section, (NCJW) conducted a Dependency Neglect and Abuse (DNA) Court Watch Project that studied the issue while attending court proceedings, noticing that the majority of cases that were heard in the DNA court docket were related to drugs or alcohol. Motivated by what they learned, they began work on raising the funds to launch a family recovery court in Jefferson County. A similar court operated in Jefferson County for almost 10 years beginning in 2002 but closed due to funding constraints.

Thanks to NCJW’s efforts, the court will begin operations again, creating the only Kentucky family recovery court focused on finding help for families involved in DNA cases.

The court will combine a focus on the permanency, safety, and welfare of abused and neglected children with the support their parents need to address their substance abuse. In doing so, the courts will address addiction and recovery with an approach that prioritizes the well-being of the entire family.

Currently, substance use is associated with the placement of at least half of the children in the custody of child welfare. The Child Welfare League of America reported that problems with substance use exist in an estimated 40% to 80% of the families of children who are confirmed by child protective service agencies as victims of abuse and neglect

Courts around the country have enacted a family recovery court model aimed at addressing the needs of families while taking a family-centered approach to treatment. Family recovery court is an evidence-based program modeled by the Center for Children and Family Futures and National Drug Court Institute. Since 1995, more than 300 programs have existed nationwide.

These courts are important because parents in family recovery court are twice as likely to go to treatment and complete it. Family reunification rates are 50% higher for recovery court participants, with children of recovery court participants spending significantly less time in out-of-home placements such as foster care.

Because of NCJW’s tireless commitment to protecting children and strengthening families, the reopening of the family recovery court means more families will be able to access treatment and supports aimed at keeping the family together, safe, and healthy. More families will again be able to revel in the joys of life.

Terrance Sullivan is policy director at Kentucky Youth Advocates.

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