Drug Courts’ Evolution toward Children and Family Services

SAMHSA’s GAINS Center

By Sid Gardner

An evolution is underway in adult drug courts (ADCs) that are moving toward serving children and families affected by their relatives’ substance use disorders.

Many drug court clients have children. When a parent experiences physical, mental, or other disabilities, their family is impacted. Nationwide, approximately 8.7 million children live with one or more parents dependent on alcohol or needing treatment for illicit drug use. These children can experience behavioral issues, school difficulties, and developmental delays. The entire family is also touched when a dad or mom is threatened with criminal charges. The family’s financial well-being is threatened, their stability may be jeopardized, and their housing may be affected. Nationwide, approximately 8.7 million children live with one or more parents who are dependent on alcohol or need treatment for illicit drug use.

But at present, few drug courts provide services for family members. The good news is that model programs and new practices are emerging that demonstrate that services for children and families can be added to the ingredients of drug courts in ways that make them more effective.

One study found that ADCs providing parenting classes achieved a 65% greater reduction in criminal recidivism and 52% greater cost savings than ADCs that lack such programs. A recent study of family drug courts demonstrated that child, parent, and family well-being outcomes improved when a comprehensive, family-centered approach was used to address specific needs of children and families in addition to the parent’s recovery.

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