Helping families

When people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction go through the court system, one major consequence of their actions may be losing custody of their children.

However, a new court aims to prevent that from happening by putting those who suffer from addiction through intensive treatment.

Webster County Family Treatment Court has been ongoing since October.

Second Judicial District Chief Judge Kurt Wilke, who presides over Family Treatment Court, said the program is voluntary and is offered to parents who are about to lose custody of their children due to the parent’s substance abuse.

“It’s designed to help people get off addiction and to teach parenting skills to those who are involved,” Wilke said. “We do anything to help them become better parents.”

Wilke said the goal of Family Treatment Court is not to punish those who are addicted, but rather to help them.

“Everybody’s trying to support these people and get through the program so they can have their kids back,” he said. “We want to help get these people over their addictions and to become better parents so their kids can be safe and sound.”

“The No. 1 priority of the court system is the safety of children,” Wilke said.

Statistically, according to Wilke, Webster County ranks second per capita in the state when it comes to child abuse cases.

Wilke believes Webster County will see a success rate much like that seen in other counties.

“Statewide, Family Treatment Courts have a 75 percent success rate,” he said. “In Child in Need of Assistance cases there is a less than 50 percent success rate.”

Family Treatment Court is expected to save the state money because everyone involved does so without extra compensation.

There’s also a monetary advantage to taxpayers when it comes to Family Treatment Court.

“For every success story you have, for every dollar spent, the taxpayer saves $9,” Wilke said.

Various agencies contribute to the court, including the Iowa Department of Human Services, Community and Family Resources, Webster County attorney’s office and local attorneys.

Jordan Brackey, assistant Webster County attorney, helps facilitate Family Treatment Court.

He said Family Treatment Court is important for Webster County.

“It helps provide a positive court environment to help get these parents involved,” Brackey said. “It’s important to get them through the necessary treatment so they can reunify with their children. Anything that helps us keep a parent’s rights from getting terminated is important for parents and children so they can have a normal home life.”

Darren Driscoll, an attorney with the Johnson, Kramer, Good, Mulholland, Cochrane & Driscoll PLC Law Firm, of Fort Dodge, said the children will benefit from Family Treatment Court.

“If we can get the parents to get their lives back on track and really kick the substance abuse problems, their children are going to be better for it,” Driscoll said. “Statistics have shown that in Family Treatment Court situations with intensive weekly supervision the likelihood of getting kids back increases.”

Those who do well in court are rewarded.

“We’re looking to get gift cards or small packages that we can give to these families when they hit certain milestones,” Driscoll said. “We provide positive incentives because it’s hard work to beat substance abuse problems. We give them every opportunity to get their kids back and maintain their sobriety.”

Melissa Donahe, outpatient supervisor for CFR, works with clients to get them the best outcome.

“I represent the counselors at our agency that work with the client,” Donahe said. “I provide information every week to discuss their progress and treatment. Clients attend substance abuse treatment and it’s my obligation to report to the Family Treatment Court based on the counselors’ recommendations.”

Wilke brought Family Treatment Court to Webster County after speaking with Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, a resident of Fort Dodge, who had observed the court in other counties and seen its success.

“It requires more time and requires more contact by the judges in the case,” Cady said. “The results are there. If your system can obtain better results in changing peoples’ lives for the better, that’s what we need to be doing.

“It reveals to parents what it means to take control of their lives and the lives of the children,” Cady added. “It’s an intensive process, but one that truly works.”

He complimented local team members for getting the new court started.

“I’m just proud of the leadership and commitment of Judge Wilke and his team,” Cady said. “It really illustrates that we have such devoted people in our system that are trying really hard to make a difference.”

Driscoll said Family Treatment Court will benefit the community.

“Drug abuse leads to criminal activities, and if we can reduce that it will have a ripple effect in the community,” he said. “They’ve seen that in other counties.”

Brackey said he’s already seen results, even though the court itself has only been around for a month.

“My hope is that we can create close to that 75 percent statistic and reunite a lot of kids with their parents,” he said. “It’ll alleviate the burden of substance abuse problems that unfortunately continues to be a problem in Webster County.”