Drugs & Drug Treatment Foster Care LA County Board of Supervisors

LA County Supes Approve New Dependency Drug Court for Families Caught up in the Child Welfare System

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted a motion to adopt a “Family Treatment Court”–an alternative drug court–system to serve parents and their children when families’ involvement in the child welfare system is due to substance use.

The drug court, which will be housed within the county’s dependency court, will endeavor to keep “families together whenever possible,” and when temporary removal is necessary, the court will work toward family reunification, according to the motion.

Increasingly, jurisdictions across the nation are using Family Treatment Courts to help vulnerable families stay together.

In 2017, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention selected nine family drug courts nationwide to serve as “best practice models” for other states and jurisdictions to follow.

Sacramento County’s dependency drug court, which serves as a model for other courts, has produced promising results. An evaluation of the program showed that participants and their kids were reunified at 24 months 42 percent of the time, compared with 27.2 percent of the time for families who did not participate in the alternative court.

People involved with Sacramento’s dependency drug court program–as well as those in other model programs–also had longer stays in drug treatment programs and were more likely to complete treatment.

“Los Angeles County, in alignment with a broader movement across the country, has moved away from punitive models in response to substance use, and, instead, toward holistic models that emphasize treatment, health, and wellness to improve outcomes and family and community stability,” states Tuesday’s motion, co-authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl. “As the largest child welfare system in the country, it is a natural step for Los Angeles County to explore and implement a Family Treatment Court based on national best practices and the specific needs of the families we serve.”

The motion directs the Department of Children and Family Services report back in 120 days after consulting with other relevant county departments and stakeholders to create a plan for a “robust treatment model which identifies funding sources, staffing needs, communication protocols, and strategies to increase timely access to holistic treatment resources.” The supes also want the DCFS plan to comprehensive data tracking that will allow the county to measure outcomes among families who participate.

The Department of Mental Health is tasked with meeting DCFS, the dependency court, and other county agencies to come up with a strategy to expand the substance use treatment services already in existence that will be offered to families participating in the drug court.

“With this motion, LA County is moving further away from old and punitive models as a response to parental substance use, and toward holistic models that emphasize treatment, health, and wellness to improve outcomes and family and community stability,” Supe. Solis said. “The overlapping issues of substance use and child welfare involvement disproportionately impact low-income families and families of color, and we are committing today to implement modern strategies to support these parents and their children.”

Image by LA County Department of Public Works.

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