“You can’t put a value on that — returning children to their parents,” District Court Judge Robert Minor said at the program’s fourth graduation ceremony.
The Family Drug Court program began in February 2010, operating with funds received through an Alabama Administrative Office of Courts grant. The $40,000 grant was divided between the Family Drug Court and Juvenile Drug Court programs.
“We received a second $40,000 grant last year, which gave us funding through the end of this fiscal year,” Minor said. “We plan to reapply for the grant this year, if funding is available.”
Minor said the program is 100 percent voluntary and is free to participants.
“Not everyone qualifies for the program,” he said. “The person must be in the process of losing custody of their children, and one of the underlying causes of that is drug use. They must be non-criminal, not arrested for dealing drugs. They must have an addiction issue.”
Minor said New Pathways and the St. Clair County Department of Human Resources assess the people and make recommendations.
“Family Drug Court does not cost the taxpayer any additional money,” he said. “The Family Drug Court staff consists of me, New Pathways, DHR, which was already providing certain services, and an attorney that provides services for all three drug court programs (family, juvenile and adult).”
Minor said the idea behind Family Drug Court was done informally before the program was created, but this intensifies the process.
“They sink or swim faster,” he said. “It lets us know right off if the parents are serious about regaining custody.”
Minor said the Family Drug Court is a minimum 12-month program with three phases. Phase I lasts four months. In Phase I, participants attend court weekly, attend an Alcoholics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or similar meeting weekly, attend New Pathways classes weekly and are randomly drug tested at least once a week.
Phase II lasts four months. Participants in Phase II attend court every other week and participate in the other weekly activities in Phase I.
Phase III also lasts four months. Participants in Phase III attend court once a month and participate in the other weekly activities of the previous two phases.
“The participants can be held in a phase longer or even moved back a phase if they don’t progress,” Minor said.
Minor said the Family Drug Court has a 90 percent success rate so far.
“That’s pretty good, but not good enough — I want 100 percent,” he said.
Minor said three participates graduated from the program last Monday.
“This is the first day of the rest of your lives,” he told the participants at the graduation ceremony. “You’ve made it this far. The valuable thing about this program is that I can’t think of anything more worth working for than getting custody of your kids back.”
Graduation guest speaker Tonya Roddam spoke to the participants about her own struggles with addiction and how she needed to be healed.
“We are all made in the image of God,” she said. “My abuser took that image from me.”
Roddam said she came to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
“God began giving me back what I had lost,” she said.
All three graduates also spoke at the graduation ceremony.
“This was a wake-up call,” one graduate said. “A year ago, I was in divorce court and failed a drug test. I had custody of my three boys taken away, and they couldn’t understand it. At first I blamed everyone else, but I had a problem and eventually realized I might be responsible. I did the program at first to make everyone happy, but then I did it for me. I got clean and got my kids back. That was the most amazing thing.”
The other two graduates spoke briefly about how the program had helped them get clean and stay sober.
“The power you have to influence the future is immeasurable,” Minor told the graduates. “Your child could grow up to be president, or find a cure for four different cancers. You will have your ups and downs, but don’t ever give up on yourself.”
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.