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Newest court helps families make it together

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 21 April 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 1357

This program is not for every parent struggling with substance use disorder(s) or mental illness, but if they do want to unite with their kids in a positive home environment, the hard work by the parents with this team of professionals can result in a healthy family. Ryan Larson, judge of District Court 395, Betsy Lambeth, judge of District Court 425, and Brandy Hallford, judge for the County Court at Law #1, are the judges primarily involved with CPS cases and have collectively worked to establish this specialty court for family restoration. 

Each family has unique needs, is primarily medically uninsured and may have criminal records from the past. A family’s team usually includes a case manager, a judge, a CPS case worker, legal support and counselors (may be from nonprofits that offer various types of addiction, mental health, counseling and other services to children and parents, such as Texas Baptist Children’s Home, Starry, Fostering Hope, Three Strands). 

Children have their assigned lawyers, judge, CPS case worker and appropriate counselors or social workers. Any special needs children or adults may require additional support members. Medical or psychiatric doctors are included virtually when necessary. As well, the weekly meetings may be virtual in support of one or both parents to reduce time from their jobs. This effort comes with a price tag. Grants have been received to cover current costs.

The families enrolled in this specialty court may have many simultaneous series of treatments depending on their circumstances. One adult may be enrolled in a detox environment initially. The other parent may be receiving counseling and mentoring.  The child or children may be in CPS’ care, under a foster parent’s care, or if highly traumatized, in a local residential treatment program designed to help them regain their footing in a life that’s knocked them down and helps restore a more normal childhood.  All are initially in highly regulated environments, but the parent(s) participate more in determining next steps as they each demonstrate greater ability in making wiser decisions.

Partners in the teams for each parent may be from the faith-based community whether as a nonprofit or as individuals with hearts and skills to help the parents through mentoring and coaching. The reconciliation of a family is gradual under the team’s guidance and evaluation of their individual progress. Foster parents take an active role in keeping the parents apprised of their child’s or children’s progress by numerous means. This court’s process truly takes the phrase “it takes a community” into demonstrable practice.

Additionally, a family needs housing, transportation and jobs. These items are among the items toughest to supply but are not forgotten in the teams’ arena. The goal is that the families who graduate have strengths, abilities and sustenance to sustain their progress.

Assessment of the effectivity of this approach is being conducted by professor Catherine LaBrenz, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at Arlington's School of Social Work. Her interest is to provide an evidence-based model for the Family Recovery Court.

Currently four families are enrolled in this specialty court. Judge Larson is hoping for the graduation of one family from this court in the near future. I hope to be at that graduation to hear them tell us their story of transformation.

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