Butler County interim JFS Executive Director Bill Morrison talks about family drug court project.
Opiate epidemic focus of new Butler County Family Drug Court
Updated April 10, 2017
By Denise G. Callahan
Combating the opiate epidemic in the Children Services realm will get a boost in June when the new Butler County Family Treatment Drug Court debuts.
Interim Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison said they have a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation because grants can’t be gotten until there is an actual certified family drug court in existence.
“In order for us to capture certain funding streams we have to be a certified drug court, which means we have to exist as a drug court before we can tap into the funding streams,” Morrison said. “What makes sense is to deploy the drug court in kind of a limited way initially.”
After assessing the number of Children Services cases involving heroin and other drugs they found in 55 percent of the cases drugs were a main factor in the decision to remove children from their homes.
Juvenile Court Magistrate Pat Wilkerson will begin dedicating a half day docket each week to drug court cases on June 29. Those who participate in Butler County’s family drug court would have regular meetings with magistrates and judges, frequent drug testing, wrap around programs to foster success and access to drug addiction treatment services.
“One of the things that’s true of addiction is the addiction itself is a relationship and there’s almost like there is an affair going on in the family that breaks down the normal bonding and attachment that would occur between parents and children, so you have to kind of reconstruct those relationships…,” Morrison said of the court program. “I think it’s taking an honest eyes wide open approach to the problem, that will help more families succeed.”
Juvenile Court Administrator Rob Clevenger said eventually they expect to be running four dockets a week — each docket will have 15 to 20 adults — and they expect to oversee a total of 70 cases at a time. Once they get to that point an additional magistrate would be required to help cover the Wilkerson’s regular caseload, which would mean the county commissioners would have to support the expense.
Clevenger said at this juncture they don’t know how much manpower they will need, but ballpark for a part-time magistrate would be about $30,000 and $66,000 — not including benefits — if they find they need a full-time person.
Commissioner Don Dixon said programs like this have proven to work and he fully supports it.
“It’s a sad day I think when you really look at the problems we have with the drug epidemic we have today. It’s just mind boggling the percentage of people who are involved in that…,” Dixon said. “A lot of them just need a chance, this is not one of those generational welfare programs. I think it (the drug court) has a positive impact, a big impact, so I would be in favor of it.”
Likewise, Commissioner T.C. Rogers says he is also on board.
“I think it’s a need that has to be met and as far as the cost of the magistrate, what’s the cost if you don’t do it,” he said. “That’s I’m sure what we’ll be considering.”
For a number of years the juvenile court handled drug addiction cases through the use of an administrative hearing officer. Then they received a five-year $2.5 million federal grant, so from 2007 to 2012 they were able to operate a true family drug court, until the funding fizzled.
The county can bill Medicaid for treatment costs. For wrap around services to support families and help them through the process, Wilkerson said they have applied for a federal $425,000 per year grant and they expect to know if they were successful in late September.
“A lot of what that’s going to cover is services that families who go through the typical abuse/neglect/dependency cycle don’t receive,” Wilkerson said. “There are going to be trauma assessments for all children, with follow-up services based upon their assessments. There will be a program called Celebrating Families, which is an evidence-based practice… It’s a very, very supportive program and it was one of the highlights of the last drug court program.”
The program is voluntary and has components of both rewards for successes and sanctions for non-compliance and lasts between 12 and 14 months.
Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O’Connor, who with Gov. John Kasich initiated a statewide push a few years ago to deal with the opiate epidemic, told the Journal-News it’s a fact, drug courts work.
“There is no silver bullet but there are a lot of tools we use to address this and drug courts are a significant resource,” O’Connor said.
This is considered a specialty court and as such must go through the high court’s certification process, which is underway. O’Connor said her court has established minimum standards for specialty courts, but individual jurisdictions can take services and practices to a higher level. With the various wrap around programs planned here, it appears Butler County has done just that.
Certification helps insure the success of the programs, the chief justice said.
“You offer treatment, there are treatment teams, that the judge is the head of the treatment team for these defendants,” she said. “Sometimes you’ll get (courts) where they say ‘we’re going to have a drug court’, the judge is just going to refer it and the judge sits back and isn’t part of it. That’s not our idea of a drug court, there has to be hands-on involvement by the court.”