For Immediate Release - June 17, 2016

Trial Court Opens First Family Drug Court in Massachusetts

BOSTON, MA -- At an official opening ceremony at Greenfield Community College today, the Massachusetts Trial Court announced the state's first family drug court, operated through the Franklin County Probate and Family Court. 

In 2013, court and community leaders came together to form the Franklin County Opioid Task Force to address growing numbers of opioid addiction in Western Massachusetts. The court partnered with the Task Force to create a new, innovative model for serving families, and developed a model for a Family Drug Court, as a new approach to handling the increasing number of custody and parenting cases where substance abuse is a factor. 

“The program is built on the premise that families are systems,” said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey. “The illness of one member has profound effects on others in that family. The Franklin Family Drug Court will assist the parent in recovery and will also address the needs of children and their caregivers.” 

Speakers and attendees at the event included Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court Angela Ordoñez, and Commissioner of Probation Edward Dolan. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was the keynote speaker. Other speakers included Franklin Register of Probate John F. Merrigan, Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, and Dr. Ruth Potee. The event was hosted by Franklin Probate and Family Court First Justice Beth Crawford, who is the presiding judge of the Family Drug Court. 

“We are proud that the Franklin Probate and Family Court can be part of the response to a community problem,” said First Justice Beth Crawford. “Together with our partners, we can make a difference in the lives of the families we serve.” 

The Franklin Family Drug Court uses a phased structure. Recovering parents’ court appearances may become less frequent as they progress through the phases. The court may refer parents for mental health treatment and medical care, and will strive to help them obtain benefits, employment, and housing. 

One or both parents will be eligible to participate in the Franklin Family Drug Court whenever their use of substances, including alcohol, jeopardizes custody of, or parenting time with, their children. The court will refer the children and their caregivers for services and education, while the parent seeks treatment. Children will be referred for trauma assessments and follow up treatment. Their caregivers will receive referrals for resources and supportive services, such as grandparent support groups in the community. The court will provide for contact between the recovering parent and the children that is in the children's best interests. Parenting time may change as the recovering parent progresses through the phases of recovery. 

The Franklin Family Drug Court seeks to lessen the stigma attached to substance abuse by teaching the caregivers, the children and the recovering parents about the biological chemical factors that cause addiction. When a parent successfully completes the drug court program, the court will hold a celebration involving the whole family. The court will recognize the effort of the parent who has participated in treatment, as well as their family’s involvement in the recovery process. 

The Franklin Family Drug Court came about with the assistance of community partners and the support of other state agencies, including the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement Unit, the Family Resource Center run by Community Action, Greenfield Community College, and local treatment providers and recovery communities. It is a voluntary program. 

Specialty Courts are court sessions that provide court-supervised probation and mandated treatment focused on treating the mental health or substance abuse issues underlying criminal behavior. Massachusetts has four types of specialty court sessions: drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ treatment courts, and a homeless court. There are 39 specialty courts in Massachusetts, including 23 adult drug courts, seven mental health courts, five veterans’ treatment courts, three juvenile drug courts, and one homeless court.