A new specialized court aims to help Kansas families dealing with substance abuse to get kids out of foster care

The Family Treatment Court model is borrowed from other states to help more families avoid foster care by treating substance use problems.

by Blaise Mesa 

Drug addiction can rip families apart. 

Nearly one in 10 Kansas kids who landed in foster care last year were there because they or their parents had an addiction, according to state foster care data. Another 4% were taken from a family because an infant was affected by drugs. 

Nationwide, about 8.7 million kids have parents with substance use issues, and 90% of people don’t get the treatment they need, said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Substance use makes it harder to hold stable housing, which is another reason children are put in state custody. 

Now Kansas families will soon have more support. The state is testing a specialty Family Treatment Court that would play a role in returning children to their families.

The Family Treatment Court borrows a concept. Some similar courts are for military veterans, for people with mental health issues or dealing with substance use. They usually work by providing more intensive services to people enrolled in them and keep those supports running throughout the duration of their case. 

The Family Treatment Court will focus mainly on substance use issues, but it could include work on behavioral health. It differs from a drug court because there are no criminal charges. Instead, there’s a foster care case.  

The pilot program is expected to launch in September and follows an example set in other states, like Missouri. 

The American Addiction Centers said that parents are up to 35% more likely to complete treatment when in this court, children return home earlier and parents are up to 40% more likely to keep their parental rights. 

Douglas Jones, the Lyon County district magistrate judge, said problem-solving courts are often more successful than traditional court settings. People are brought together more frequently, he said, which can make communication about expectations clearer. 

The three courts in this pilot are in Miami, Lyon and Cowley counties. They are more rural and, unlike larger court systems, the counties don’t have judges who can work solely on child welfare cases. 

Social workers assigned to these cases will have smaller workloads to allow for more regular communication and more dedication to each family. 

“We’re creating capacity for additional expertise on what can help families,” said Tanya Keys, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families. 

The pilot program also gives DCF a chance to gather data that can better serve families, Keys said. The program will show DCF how families fare with more regular progress reports and a more hands-on approach. It can also create a blueprint for other counties. 

What they learn from these families will show how much of a difference the court makes, Keys said. For instance, “what type of resources might be needed in other jurisdictions to replicate this?”

Some details still need to be hammered out, like how exactly a family is chosen for the program. The courts, DCF and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services are all sorting those details out. 

The state has gone to other counties outside the state with similar programs to see how those are run. They are working on tailoring those systems to Kansas.

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon