Family courts works to restore families through drug recovery program
JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) –
Judge Alan Summers knows just how bad the heroin and opioid epidemic has become in Jefferson County.
He’s seen how these drugs can tear families apart firsthand through family court.
When parents enter his courtroom, they’ve already lost custody of their child. Over a three-month period, half of the cases that came before him were drug related.
The state breaks it down even further. Last year 185 children were removed from the home and placed into foster care because of a parent’s drug abuse. That number has nearly doubled since 2010.
But Judge Summers believes the numbers are much higher.
“It’s harder to get to those addicts of heroin and pills. It’s a tough drug to beat. With the cocaine and the marijuana, we were able to connect on a much faster level, but unfortunately this is a tough drug.”
Through a voluntary Wellness Court Program, Judge Summers and his team are working to help parents tackle addiction and gain custody of their children.
“I felt like all we were doing was putting a Band-Aid on the problem. Now we are actually doing trauma surgery trying to figure out what’s going on to stop this,” he continued .
It’s an 18 month program, where there’s focus on treatment, counseling, and parenting. All paid for through grants.
Parents meet with Judge Summers every week, without their attorneys. Summers said a mother could regain custody before those 18 months are up.
So far, there have been 103 graduates. Five parents have relapsed over the programs 8 year history.
“We build a relationship then eventually we build that trust with each other and out of that trust great things happens,” continued Summers.
And some of those great things include graduates coming back and working for the program to help other mothers who are in the same situation.
“Once they see that we are really trying to help them, that just blossoms.”
They’ve also established a visitation center with the YMCA Youth Center to allow parents to have meaningful visits with their children in a kid friendly environment.
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