William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun
OKLA. CITY —
Every Thursday at 2 p.m. Juvenile Court Judge John Jacobsen presides over a session of the Oklahoma Family Drug Court at the Juvenile Justice Center on Classen Boulevard. The court works with parents who have substance abuse problems whose children have been found to be deprived by the Oklahoma County Juvenile Court and placed in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
It is designed to assist those parents to become drug free and have their children returned to their custody. The court has been in operation since May of last year. To be eligible for admission the parents must admit that they have an addiction to alcohol or drugs.
The court is funded by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services through a grant that the agency received from the federal government.
There are currently 15 families that are involved in the court and there is a room in the program for an additional 15 families.
As recently explained by court-appointed special advocate Eddie Porter, an hour before Jacobsen convenes that court into session a meeting is held that is attended by Jacobsen, the attorneys for the parents, children, an assistant district attorney and social workers from the Department of Human Services, and the case of each party is reviewed. Porter reports that more than 80 percent of the parents who participate in the program have been homeless at some time, 60 percent have been victims of domestic abuse, and that the average age that they begin to abuse alcohol or other substances was 14. The majority of the participants also have endured trauma that includes being physically abused or sexually assaulted.
As documented in the Family Drug Court handbook, there are five phases of the program for the parents. The first one is directed to encouraging the participants lead a drug free life, and includes training on how to deal with stress and uncertainty without using drugs. The second one seeks to have the parents rise to the challenge of recovery and beginning the process of their reentry into the community. The third phase also focuses on community reentry and continued positive changes in the lives of the participants. It is at this stage that the children are to be returned to their parent’s care and custody. The fourth one focuses on reintegration of the entire family into the community. The final phase deals with the after care in which the participants are required to show that they have the self reliance and confidence to continue their recovery after they have completed the program.
The parents are required to attend sessions of the court as they progress through the program, and are also subject to random drug testing to insure that they remain drug-free. As the parents complete each level of the program they receive rewards such as tickets to sporting events and free meals at local restaurants and a lessening of the number of drug tests that they are subject to. If they fail to comply with the program’s requirements they are subject to sanctions such as having to spend a weekend in jail or being required to complete hours of community service.
Since the family drug court has only been in operation for one year, the long term success can not be ascertained at this time. But Porter reports that he and all the others who are part of it have seen improvements in the lives of the parents who are enrolled in the program, and that many of them have begun efforts to obtain more education and job training.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.