Family option planned

Judge Kurt Wilke said that the Second Judicial District is making plans to create a family treatment court for Webster County.

There are already six family treatment courts in the state, which Wilke described as “an offshoot of juvenile court.”

One of the cases that district associate court judges deal with are child in need of assistance cases, which are also known as CHINA actions.

“Those are held when there is a determination made by the department of human services that the parent or parents of a child are not able to adequately or properly take care of a child,” Wilke said. “As a result, that child is in jeopardy.”

One common reason for that is drug or alcohol abuse, according to Wilke.

Under the juvenile court system, judges hold periodic hearings to determine if the parent is well enough to take care of the child. However, Wilke said that process can sometimes take up to two or three months before a hearing is scheduled.

With the family treatment court, Wilke said “very informal, very intensive” hearings will be held every week in conjunction with the CHINA action.

“In family treatment court, the parent will be in front of the judge every single week, along with members of DHS (Department of Human Services) and CFR (Community and Family Resources),” Wilke said. “It’s very intensive to try and get that person off addiction and be a responsible parent.”

The idea of family treatment court was brought to Wilke’s attention by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady. After seeing a family treatment court session himself and consulting with different local agencies, Wilke began the process of getting the court adopted by the county.

What really got Wilke interested in the program were statistics reported by the six other family treatment courts. He said those courts experienced a 75 percent success rate with reuniting families. In juvenile court, that rate is less than 50 percent.

He hopes to have family treatment court started by sometime in mid-September, but added it’s possible that date will have to be pushed back.

“I’m quite excited about it myself,” Wilke said. “It will take a lot of effort from everybody, but I think Webster County really needs this.”