April 2014 Bar Bulletin
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From the Desk of the Presiding Judge

Family Treatment Court: Keeping Families Together

By Judge Susan Craighead


He was a rare father among the parents participating in King County Superior Court's Family Treatment Court recently. "I want to succeed, but it's really tough. I got five kids," he told Judge Hollis Hill, our dependency judge. He won a round of applause marking six months of sobriety. Judge Hill asked him what he was doing to take care of himself given the challenge of caring for five children by himself. He promised her he was working on his sleep apnea so he would have enough energy to keep up with them.

While the Court remains involved in his family's life because their stability is very fragile, those five children are not in foster care, they are in the care of a father who loves them. This is the goal of Family Treatment Court: help parents overcome drug and alcohol addiction so their children can be returned to them. It is the best way that we have to keep kids out of foster care.

Our Family Treatment Court opened in 2004 under the leadership of now-retired Judge Pat Clark and expanded in 2009 using revenue from the King County Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Plan and the Veterans and Human Services levy. We serve 60 families at any one time and persistently carry a waiting list of 30 families.

We find that 58 percent of children served by Family Treatment Court are returned home, compared to 34 percent of statistically matched children whose parents did not participate. Children whose parents participated in FTC spent an average of 481 days in out-of-home care, compared to 689 days in the comparison group.

The Court employs case managers, who are able to connect participants to treatment quickly and make sure they get the intensity and duration of treatment they need. This is likely the reason that FTC participants are more likely to be placed in inpatient beds and stay in treatment longer than comparable parents who don't participate.

Just as important is the individualized attention offered by Judge Hill and, in Kent, Judge Julia Garratt, and their teams. The day I visited Judge Hill's courtroom, she conducted a hearing with a mother who had relapsed and was at the hospital receiving medical treatment during the hearing. "I'm wearing a gown," she told the judge.

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