A new approach to keeping families together is seeing success in Iowa.
Family Treatment Courts work with community professionals to help Iowans struggling with substance abuse or other problems that put them at risk of losing their parental rights. Legislators heard about the good work of Family Treatment Courts from Kurt Wilke, Chief Judge of Iowa's Second Judicial District in Fort Dodge.
As of September 2013, 496 families - including 587 parents and 954 children - have participated in Family Treatment Courts. The results are spectacular: 79 percent of children go home to their parents within 12 months, and 94 percent of the kids suffer no further abuse or neglect.
The Family Treatment Courts are comprised of a presiding judge and a team, which includes Department of Human Services staff, attorneys and community partners. Parents can volunteer to participate in the program if one is available in their county. The program includes weekly meetings, intensive supervision of parents, and addressing concerns parents may be coping with, such as mental health issues, domestic abuse, housing, transportation, employment and child visitation.
There are currently federally funded Family Treatment Courts in Linn, Polk, Scott, Wapello, Cherokee/Ida and Woodbury counties. There are also five "emerging" Family Treatment Courts in Webster, Buena Vista, Warren, Johnson and Washington/Keokuk counties, which were started by local officials. More Family Treatment Courts may soon be available as other counties seek to replicate their proven success.
The federal funding to Iowa has totaled $3.5 million over seven years but will end in September of this year. Ensuring that Family Treatment Courts continue and expand in Iowa is a good investment. The six pilot projects have saved taxpayers $4.6 million.
More important, families are staying together, and parents struggling with addiction break the cycle when they learn to raise their children responsibly and become contributing members of society.