Early Intervention Drug Court Heals Parents With Addiction To Keep Families Together

By Dorri Olds 08/24/16

The Early Intervention Drug Court Program in Sacramento County helps parents complete addiction treatment before their kids get put into the foster care system.

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Early Intervention Drug Court Heals Parents With Addiction To Keep Families Together

As our opioid crisis continues, more babies are born addicted to drugs and more addicts are losing custody of their children. But positive steps are being taken toward a solution. Instead of throwing addicted parents into jail and tossing their kids into the foster care system, the Early Intervention Family Drug Court (EIFDC) in Sacramento County, California, is working to keep families together. This is a program, not an actual court.

With EIFDC, drug-abusing parents who have been reported to Child Protective Services are offered professional support and medication-assisted treatment. The goal is to give them some tough love and get them off drugs so they can maintain custody of their children. If an addict fails to complete the program, their case is sent to a standard family drug court, and their children are removed and assigned their own attorneys. 

“People can overcome addiction if the motivation is strong enough, and this is the most effective motivation I have ever seen," Sherri Z. Heller, director of Sacramento’s Health and Human Services Department, told NPR. "The rush that comes with getting high is pretty spectacular. And it’s very hard physically, once the addiction happens, to overcome. But if there is one thing that matters to people more than the thrill of getting high, it’s the thrill of doing the right thing for your children and keeping your family intact.”

The Fix reached out to Tara Kemp, a New Jersey counselor with a master’s degree in social work, who runs a long-term drug treatment facility where addicts stay from nine months to a year. She spoke about the broken system of sending addicts to jail and taking their children away versus giving them treatment. 

“I had one client who came to me after running into legal issues,” Kemp said. “I had to work to get her put onto the proper medications, then she leveled off and did wonderfully. But she was taken from us and put into the prison system, where she should’ve been properly medicated. I got a call one day that she’d hung herself in her cell.”

Kemp said, “She didn’t belong in jail, she needed treatment. It was a tragedy and so is every case where we see a client lose custody of their child to the foster care system. Early intervention will benefit addicts and their families.”

Those who work in the EIFDCs understand that drug addicts and their children benefit far more from treatment versus harsh legal punishments like we see in our failed War on Drugs.

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Dorri Olds is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day and several book anthologies. Find Dorri on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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