Family Dependency Treatment Courts

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Problem-Solving Courts – also known as Accountability Courts – are programs developed by many court systems to impose treatment plans and other forms of rehabilitation on some criminal offenders who would otherwise face jail time and the stigma of a criminal record. They reduce the judicial system caseload and the prison population while helping offenders with drug, mental health, and similar problems. We covered Mental Health Courts in April 2008, Drug Courts in October 2008, and Veterans Courts in January 2011.

Family Dependency Treatment Courts are another type of Accountability Court, and they’re different in that their treatment plans include not only the offender, but also his or her family. In cases of child abuse and neglect caused by parents’ drug or alcohol problems, the offender is not the only person who needs help. While typical Drug Court programs focus on stopping the offender’s substance abuse, Family Dependency Treatment Courts have additional goals: to improve the offender’s parenting skills, stop child abuse and neglect, and keep families together.

These programs use multi-disciplinary teams of judges, prosecutors, childrens’ advocates, parent attorneys (or Public Defenders) and treatment providers. Requirements for successful completion of the program may include intensive treatment and counseling, periodic court sessions, drug testing, and parenting classes.

Family Dependency Treatment Courts are voluntary programs and are not open to all offenders; the offender must apply and be accepted. Successful completion of the program means the offender does not go to jail, does not have a criminal record, is clean and sober. And last but not least, the family is intact and child abuse and neglect has stopped.

The first such program was the Family Drug Court of  Nevada’s 2nd Judicial District in Reno, set up in 1994 and still in operation. The concept has now been adopted in nearly every state. Georgia was an early adopter of Accountability Courts and has multiple types in nearly every county. It currently has 10 Family Dependency Treatment Courts covering 13 counties. The Appalachian Judicial Circuit Family Drug Court includes Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens Counties. Chatham County Family Dependency Treatment Court is an example of a single-county program.

Washington is just one of many other states with similar programs, including the King County Family Treatment Court. Additional examples may be found in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio. Check CourtReference to see if your state or county has a similar program; look for descriptions under the Self-Help and Legal Research Category that mention “family treatment court” or “family drug court” or similar language.


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