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County approves Family Drug Court

Profile image for By Daniel Burgess
By Daniel Burgess

Goal will be to reunite participants with children after completing program

Goal will be to reunite participants with children after completing program

Denton County parents who have lost custody of their children because of a drug addiction will soon have a new option to receive treatment and reunite with their kids thanks to the creation of a new specialty court.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to create the Family Drug Court within the 442nd District Court. Presiding Judge Tiffany Haertling asked for the new court in order to create a non-adversarial treatment program with the goal of returning participants’ children after successful completion.

“[Child Protective Services] cases are some of the most difficult things we do because we’re dealing with children who are in the system through no fault of their own, and they love their parents. We just need to give their parents help,” Haertling said. “They’re not bad people. They’ve made bad choices.”

Haertling said only about 30 percent of cases in Denton County end with parents reunited with their children, but counties with family drug courts, including Tarrant and Collin, have a 60 percent to 65 percent reunification rate.

“It’s something that Denton County has needed for quite a long time,” Haertling said. “I’m passionate about this because there’s so many things that we need to do better in the CPS system.”

The court is a collaboration of the district attorney’s office, Denton County Department of Family and Protective Services and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Denton County.

Participants in Family Drug Court will be required to attend court twice a month instead of every 90 days. A treatment team consisting of representatives from CPS and local recovery experts will assist participants in finding support groups and treatment services.

Participants will also have to submit to frequent drug tests, enroll in a residential treatment facility and attend 12-step groups.

Scott Wisenbaker, founder and executive director of Solutions of North Texas, worked with Haertling on developing the program. He said many parents are willing to change after CPS takes their kids, but most don’t know how.

“Ninety days for someone with an addiction that has absolutely no direction, just because you tell them they need to do better, they’re not going to make it without some direction,” Wisenbaker said.

Haertling said she has begun applying for state and federal grants to help fund the program. She said the Texas governor’s office will not be approving any grants for specialty courts, and members of the treatment team are volunteers.

“It’s a donation of our time,” Wisenbaker said. “It’s just something I believe in, and we get to help a lot of people.”

The court has scheduled its first docket for March 23. Haertling said although nearly all CPS cases could be attributed to drugs, the court will accept 15 participants at first to gauge its effectiveness and work out the details before expanding to more courts.

She said she’s confident the new program will help break the cycle of children born to addicted parents.

“It will provide a structure, provide accountability, and we are really going to, when they first come into the system, address the drugs issue — get them clean and sober first,” Haertling said.

Participants must have a history of being chemically dependent to qualify for the program, and the addiction must be the primary factor in the child’s removal.

Parents who have a recent history of violent felonies, registered sex offenders and parents with profound mental health disorders are excluded from the program.

DANIEL BURGESS can be reached at 940-566-6875 or via Twitter at @DanielKBurgess.