Skip to main content

Specialty Courts That Reunite Families, Treat Parental Substance Abuse to Expand

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A specialty court that treats parental substance use and reunites families is expanding in Oklahoma.

Family treatment courts are designed to help reunify families with children involved in the child welfare system where parental substance use is a contributing factor to child abuse or neglect.

Presently, five treatment courts are operating in Oklahoma, with courts covering additional counties planned this summer, said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). ODMHSAS provides treatment, administrative funding and support for the courts, and collaborates with county juvenile court systems, treatment and service providers, and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) to keep them running smoothly.

Family treatment courts operate in Custer/Washita, Kay, Oklahoma, Okmulgee and Tulsa counties. A Creek County court and a joint court involving Johnston, Marshall and Murray counties are in the implementation phase and expect to take new cases in the coming months. Conversations with several other counties and providers across the state continue to take place to identify the greatest need for family treatment courts.

Additionally, Canadian County operates a self-funded family treatment court for which ODMHSAS provides technical assistance and support.

Participants don’t face jail time, so sanctions or incentives that may apply to other courts are not used in family treatment court, Kay County Special District Judge Jennifer Brock said.

“What these participants have on the line is the destruction of their family,” she said, which serves as significant motivation for a successful outcome.

To regain custody of their children, families are surrounded with additional resources and services to prevent recurring court involvement. “Family treatment court is not sanction-heavy. It’s very incentive-based,” Brock said.

Nationally, nearly 80 percent of children in foster care have a parent in need of substance use treatment. In 2019, Oklahoma ranked eighth nationally for the rate of child removals due to substance use, with 54.1 percent of all kids removed because of a parent or caregiver’s substance use.

With family treatment courts, adults are more likely to complete substance use treatment and families are twice as likely to reunify than families receiving conventional services.

The program also tackles other issues, as addiction can hide a multitude of problems, such as unemployment, lack of education, transportation issues, food insecurity or lack of housing. Unresolved trauma is common, as well.

“Unresolved trauma is typically an underlying issue in a lot of substance use cases,” said Slatton-Hodges. “By helping people deal with trauma, they can better meet life’s challenges to become the best parents they can be.”

Participants are connected to jobs, housing, transportation and other resources, if needed.

“By successfully treating parents for substance use issues, reunifying families and reducing a child’s time out of the home, we can hopefully prevent these situations from happening again,” said Slatton-Hodges. “Stopping the generational cycle of substance abuse is vital if we are to progress as a state. These courts are helping us do that by reunifying families and treating substance use that has previously gone untreated.”

For more information about Oklahoma family treatment courts, including county contact information, visit the Family Treatment Court page.

Back to Top