Benefits & Process of Family Treatment Court for Substance Abuse
Family treatment court addresses the multi-faceted needs of families in the state court systems, including substance use disorder treatment, to help families improve their well-being and increase safety and permanency for children.1
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What Is Family Treatment Court?
The government developed family treatment courts in the mid-1990s as a novel approach to treatment for families when drug use impacts the welfare of children.1 Family drug courts became especially important after the passage of the Federal Safe and Stable Families Act in 1997, which required family courts to hold hearings on the permanency of child placement within 12 months of entering foster care.1
The purpose of this Act was to move children more quickly through foster care and promote faster reunification or alternate placement.1 However, for parents with substance use disorders, getting help quickly enough to meet their goals within 12 months was difficult. Only about 31% of parents who needed treatment for substance use actually received the help they needed.1 Noting that 60-80% of all child abuse and/or neglect cases involved substance use disorders of a parent or guardian, family treatment courts were designed to take a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to drug treatment and focus on solving the underlying issue of substance use disorders and the impact on child abuse.1
The aim of family treatment courts is to help parents resolve their substance abuse issues, reduce the risk of child abuse, and help the parent provide a stable environment for (and more quickly regain custody of) their children.1
What Happens During Family Treatment Court?
There are three general formats of family treatment court, which include the following:1
- Parallel models, where one judge oversees treatment for a child welfare case and another oversees the parent’s substance abuse treatment.
- Integrated models, in which one judge oversees all services for the family and children in each family unit.
- Dual, or hybrid models, where one judge oversees substance abuse treatment, and in cases where parents fail to comply with treatment, a second judge in a separate court works to ensure parental compliance with treatment.
Regardless of the model of court, there are several general steps that may be part of family treatment court, including:2
- Facilitating rapid entry into substance use disorder treatment for parents, between 30-60 days.
- Keeping families in treatment for at least 15 months.
- Delivering family therapy treatment services in the family home.
- Having parents participate in several weeks of individual counseling.
- Frequent court hearings to assess progress.
- Weekly drug testing for parents.
- Parenting classes, with a focus on various skills, such as discipline.
- Ensuring that staff receives training on such topics as evidence-based practices for family treatment, neuroscience, and specialized treatment for children who have been abused and traumatized.
Benefits of Family Treatment Court
There are numerous benefits of family treatment court shown in certain studies, which include:1
- Increased child safety.
- Higher levels of adult recovery.
- Higher rates of reunification between parents and children.
- Overall, higher levels of family well-being.
Although the services are intensive, it may be possible to still work and attend to other responsibilities while going through family treatment court. In fact, some programs help parents find stable employment.3 Family drug treatment courts focus on parental recovery and child welfare. The type and intensity of treatment that a person may receive through the family treatment court depend on individual needs, including the need for co-occurring mental health disorders treatment, job and housing assistance, or domestic violence treatment.3
Effectiveness & Success of Family Treatment Courts
There have been numerous research studies that demonstrate that family treatment courts are more effective than regular family courts in improving family outcomes. Some of the key indicators which prove the effectiveness of family treatment courts include higher rates of completing substance use treatment and lessening time in out-of-home placements for children.2
Finding Help for Substance Abuse Today
If you or your loved one are in need of treatment, take the initiative to find help today. There are numerous programs available to help address your substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health conditions, including inpatient rehab centers, outpatient programs, and many other options to help you find recovery. For more information regarding treatment for substance abuse issues, contact American Addiction Centers at .
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2016). Family drug courts.
- Justice Speakers Institute. (2022). Family drug treatment courts.
- National Drug Court Institute. (2018). Family treatment court planning guide.