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Family Treatment Courts reunite families and save taxpayers money

This news story was published on October 27, 2016.
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gavel-justiceDES MOINES — A recently completed study shows that nearly 1,000 parents and more than 1,600 children have been served by the twelve Iowa Family Treatment Courts since the program began in 2007. More than 75 percent of the 860 families in the program were reunited after the parents successfully completed treatment with a cost savings to the state of more than $12 million.

The cost savings is a result of children in the program being more likely to stay in the home through case closure, fewer parents having parental rights terminated, and children reunified with parents more quickly. The study found that parents in the program are more likely to enter treatment and are more likely to complete treatment than the comparison group (parents who were referred to the program but did not participate).

The additional costs of treatment for the parents are factored into the $12 million savings. The study showed that 75.8% of the children in the program were able to remain in the custody of their parent or caregiver, 77% were returned home within 12 months of removal, and 96.2% of the children did not suffer a recurrence of maltreatment.

“I am very pleased by findings in this report,” Chief Justice Cady said. “I began my career on the bench as a district associate judge and saw firsthand how substance abuse can destroy families. Presiding over a termination of parental rights case was always very difficult for me. The tremendous success of family treatment courts shows us that communities and courts can work together to end the tragic cycle of broken families and broken lives due to substance abuse.”

Family treatment courts are an alternative for parents with substance use issues who become involved in the child welfare system. Some factors that contribute to success are access to a judge led team of professionals who work with the families, timely access to treatment and treatment completion, more frequent drug testing and contact with treatment providers, positive relationships with family treatment court team members, and access to recovery supports.

“The results speak for themselves, Iowa Children’s Justice Executive Director Gail Barber said. “Family treatment court works. Seeing the parents contributing in their communities and seeing the families and children emerging with stronger relationships is the real proof that collaboration and learning to operate together definitely works.”

Six Iowa family treatment courts were created in 2007 through a federal grant. The grant ended in September 2014. Since then, partial funding allocated by the state legislature has allowed the original six pilot sites – Cherokee/Ida, Linn, Polk, Scott, Wapello, and Woodbury — and six new sites- Cass, Buena Vista, Johnson, Warren, Webster, and Cerro Gordo – to operate across Iowa. The newest family treatment court, located in Black Hawk County, began accepting referrals in August 2016. There is now a family treatment court operating in every judicial district.

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