Clark County’s family, youth treatment courts see first graduates

Doug, a graduate of the Clark County Family Treatment Court, waves to the crowd of supporters as he receives his certificate Tuesday, May 25, 2022. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Doug, a graduate of the Clark County Family Treatment Court, waves to the crowd of supporters as he receives his certificate Tuesday, May 25, 2022. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Clark County’s family and youth treatment courts have seen growth since their start last year, and local leaders are pointing to their potential to benefit families and taxpayers.

May is both National Drug Court month and Mental Health Awareness month, and local participants and coordinators of the county’s drug court programs were honored on Tuesday at the Clark County Juvenile Court training center in Springfield.

Drug courts are specialized dockets that handle cases involving offenders with substance-use related charges through supervision, screening, treatment services and sanctions and incentives, according to Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The Supreme Court of Ohio certified the specialized dockets for Clark County’s family treatment court and youth treatment court in 2021, Clark County Juvenile Court judge Katrine Lancaster said.

Clark County’s family treatment court is available to parents who have filings by Family and Children’s Services for the removal of their children due to substance use where the parent has a diagnosed substance use disorder.

“That’s extremely traumatic for the parent, the kids, the entire family,” Lancaster said. “And there’s a cost involved: the cost to the community and the human toll it takes.”

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Doug Sherrock is among the several graduates who have completed the drug court programs in the county.

He said he gained a lot through his time in the family treatment court, which he entered into in summer of 2021 after completing residential treatment. His children are a part of his life again, and he said he feels like he has built a network of support.

“I didn’t love myself, and I really didn’t care about life,” he said. “And then I came here. I want to do the right thing and raise my boys up to be good men.”

Aside from Sherrock, one other person graduated from the family treatment court earlier this year, and a few young people have graduated from the youth treatment court this year and last, Lancaster said.

The youth treatment court has two sections. “Support Treat Educate and Promote well-being” (STEP) focuses on substance use disorders, and the “Positive Expectations Aid Children Everywhere” (PEACE) docket focuses on mental health.

Most people typically take 9 to 12 months to complete the program, which includes three phases that walk them through education and compliance, Lancaster said.

Lancaster said that many people who participate in the county’s family treatment court also have an underlying mental health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness any given year.

Clark County commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt echoed this, saying the drug court programming exists as a response to “brokeness” in a community.

“This could be in families, in generations,” she said. “And that’s not unfixable. We can med that brokeness.”

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Money invested in the courts may be saving taxpayer dollars, too, Lancaster said, pointing to a study by the Office of National Drug Policy, which stated that for every $1 invested in a drug court, $3.36 in criminal justice costs were saved.

Specialized dockets are eligible for grant funding, and the court received a $750,000 grant last year for supportive services and data collection for the programs, Lancaster said. The federal grant will be paid out over the next four years. The court will also receive $75,000 the next two years from Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services, Lancaster said, to go toward supportive services such as childcare for family treatment participants.

Lancaster said the drug court programs also benefit the families and young people who enter them.

“If the barriers to their success aren’t addressed, they’re going to continue to come back into our system,” she said.

Drug court special dockets exist throughout the nation, with many in Ohio. Last year, 152 specialized docket programs statewide provided services to 6,498 adults, while 294 young people were served by 23 specialized dockets operated by juvenile courts, according to Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.

In addition, a total of 29 family drug courts in the state served 688 parents. More than 400 children were reunited with the 336 parents who were discharged from their family drug courts, according to the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.

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