Family drug courts aim at successfully reuniting families where one or both parents have substance abuse issues. The first family drug court was established in Reno, Nevada, in 1995. Today, more than three hundred family drug court programs are in operation across the United States.
Family drug courts operate much like the more well-known adult drug courts, with an emphasis on counseling, treatment, and rehabilitation. The difference is that a family drug court coordinates its programs with child protective services agencies to eventually unify families when the parent or parents have successfully completed the family drug court program.
In Palm Beach County, according to the New York Times, drug overdoses long ago surpassed other health concerns and became the most common medical emergencies. In the first six months of 2016, Palm Beach County had 156 overdose deaths linked to fentanyl; 90 of those deaths were persons between the ages of 18 and 34.
A heroin overdose was the cause of death for 96 people in Palm Beach County during the first six months of 2016. In all, Palm Beach County authorities responded to about 5,000 overdose calls in 2016 – an average of more than 13 calls per day.
In response to the national and local drug abuse epidemics, Palm Beach County has established an Adult Drug Court, a Juvenile Drug Court, and a Family Drug Court. The Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program is a specialized drug court program created to help parents who are charged with abuse or neglect related to alcohol or drugs overcome their substance abuse issues and reunite with their families.
HOW DOES THE FAMILY DRUG COURT WORK?
To achieve this aim, the Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program refers parents to local substance abuse rehabilitation programs and monitors their progress. Participants are allowed to stay in contact with their children throughout their time in a Family Drug Court program. Participants attend individual and group counseling sessions, and in some cases, parenting classes. Successful graduates of the program are reunited with their families, and no further penalties are imposed.
According to West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney Rick Hutchinson: “Family Drug Court is an opportunity for people with a medical problem (i.e., a drug or alcohol abuse issue) who are now in contact with the judicial system either through criminal charges as a result of their using drugs or through marital or DCF involvement. Family Drug Court gives a parent an opportunity to work through their issues while also getting back together with children who may have been removed from the harm of being supervised [by that parent]. We can help these situations by interacting with the agencies involved in providing documentation as well as representation.”
Who is eligible for the Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program? For starters, a parent must confess to the abuse or neglect allegation and must admit that he or she has a drug or alcohol problem. The child must first be removed from the home or the parent’s custody, and the case must be in the Palm Beach County jurisdiction.
Participants agree to submit to frequent random drug testing, frequent “status” hearings in court, and to all other conditions set forth by the court. To reunify a family, the program requires parents to conclude substance abuse treatment successfully and to satisfy any other terms and conditions set forth by the court.
WHAT ARE THE FINAL GOALS OF THE FAMILY DRUG COURT?
The final goals for participants are rehabilitation, personal accountability, long-term success overcoming drug and alcohol issues, and a crime-free future. However, some parents who have been charged with neglect or abuse will not qualify for participation in the Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program. Anyone who has been deemed an incompetent parent will not qualify, along with parents who:
– suffer from an unstabilized mental disorder
– suffer from advanced mental illness
– are currently following a pain management protocol
– are allegedly sexual predators
– have convictions for violent crimes
Supervision throughout the Family Drug Court program is provided by the Family Drug Court staff and the presiding judge. Completing the Family Drug Court program in Palm Beach County is not easy. Parents must commit to the program and use some personal willpower to succeed, but those who want success will achieve it.
Parents of all ages and from every walk of life, and even persons who have been addicted to drugs or alcohol for many years, have successfully completed the Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program. Nationally, thousands are succeeding and overcoming substance abuse issues with the help of drug courts.
As participants work through a community-based treatment program, they make progress through several levels of participation as required by the Family Drug Court. What does the Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program provide for participants? It connects parents to appropriate drug treatment programs, parenting skills classes, healthcare providers, educational and vocational training providers, and to other support services and assistance as needed. Finally, Family Drug Court allows participants to have more visitations with their children as the parent stabilizes and continues to maintain sobriety.
Each level of the Family Drug Court program has specific goals and specific requirements for advancement to the next level. How quickly participants move through the program depends to a great extent upon the participants themselves.
Participants who do not remain drug-free or who fail to meet other terms and conditions of the Family Drug Court program can be discharged from the program by the presiding judge and in some cases taken into custody.
HOW CAN A DEFENSE ATTORNEY HELP?
If you are a parent who has been accused of neglect or abuse, you’re going to need legal help, and if drugs or alcohol are connected in any way to the abuse or neglect allegation, Family Drug Court may be right for you. An experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney can review the details of your case, determine if you are eligible for Family Drug Court, explain your legal rights and options, and represent you before a judge.
Of course, if you have been wrongly accused of neglect or abuse, or wrongfully accused of a drug crime, you should fight the charge, and an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney can help. But if you are actually guilty as charged, your attorney can probably get you into a drug court program – provided that you meet the qualifications. Your attorney will ensure that you are treated fairly and that your rights are protected at every stage of the legal process.
If you are accepted into the Palm Beach County Family Drug Court program, and you make the commitment to succeed, you do not have to fear that your children will be permanently removed from your custody. Upon completing the program, you’ll be reunited with your family, you’ll have months of drug-free living, and you’ll have the tools and opportunity to create a constructive, positive, drug-free future for yourself and your family.