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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Drug Courts can be quite effective fir child protection

Some lovely new research by Bruns et al. has shown that drug courts can be quite effective in working with substance abusing parents in the child protection system. This matters. As they point out, substance abuse is one of the most significant issues in child protection. They note prior research showing that it is related to higher involvement in foster care; longer duration in care and poorer reunification rates. In addition, they highlight that it can often take many months before parents are connected to needed treatment resources

Drug Treatment Courts have a solid history of working within the criminal court system in various jurisdictions.

The aim of most drug courts is to use the court process to facilitate a coordinated, team-based, and inter- disciplinary approach to treat individuals who have been charged with an offense related to their addiction or substance involvement (p.2).

Family Drug Treatment Courts aim to increase reunification, family safety as well as parental abstinence. To my knowledge, they are not yet common within the child protection system, so this review may well assist in raising such an approach as an important tool for child protection systems.

A study of four FTDCs in sites across the United States found that participants enrolled in treatment more quickly, received treat- ment services for a longer mean duration, and were more likely to complete treatment successfully than parents in regular dependency courts. (p.3).

However, the published research data base remains small and is not been subject to the kind of disciplined review that might give long term confidence. The present study helps to fill the gap and shows positive results including entering treatment faster, completing and having better child protection outcomes. The children were more frequently returned to parental care.

This promising research adds to the idea that structured, comprehensive substance abuse interventions that include the courts can substantially improve outcomes. This might be an approach that is worth considering in more jurisdictions.


Bruns, E.J.,, Pullmann, M.D., Weathers, E.S., Wirschem, M.L. &. Murphy, J.K. (2012). Effects of a multidisciplinary family treatment drug court on child and family outcomes: Results of a quasi-experimental study. Child Maltreatment, In Press. doi: 10.1177/1077559512454216


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