Confusion and dismay over decision to close Family Restoration Court

When attendees of the Marion County Family Recovery Court come together virtually on March 29 to celebrate two women who graduated from the program, the speeches, words of encouragement and tears will end in final goodbyes.

The Marion Superior Court Executive Committee announced that the Family Recovery Court, which began in 2010, will close at the end of the month. Declining attendance as well as concerns about how the program was run were cited as reasons for the decision to quit.

But stakeholders and graduates say the closure will have a devastating impact, rippling beyond the participants to their children and extended family members.

Amy Jones

“I think it’s a shame that we’re so willing to put people aside because of what a judge is going through over a two-month period,” said Mark Jones, a former senior Marion judge who presided. the family restoration court until his resignation in January. . Marion Superior Presiding Judge Amy Jones has been leading the family recovery court ever since.

Most court participants are women with addiction and mental health issues. Also, they are usually involved in cases of children in need of services because their children have been abused or neglected.

The Family Recovery Court meets every Tuesday morning, with participants appearing in court before meeting in a support group. In addition, the court would bring together different nonprofits and state agencies to offer services like parenting skills classes and help women navigate bureaucracy to get the help they need.

Kristen Keegan, a social worker with the Marion County Public Advocacy Agency, said service providers are willing to help participants anytime, anywhere. The women in the program have been called “bad mothers” because their children were taken away, she said, but they themselves have suffered trauma in their past.

“These are individuals who need to be understood,” Keegan said. “Family Recovery Court isn’t just about substance abuse — it really is a safe space.”

Group therapy session

The Marion County Family Recovery Court operates through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Most recently, in 2018, the Collection Court received a five-year grant of up to $414,704 per year.

According to Marion’s Superior Court, the grant money was for reimbursement, so the dollars could only be used to pay for expenses already incurred. Even so, Amy Jones said, the funding was largely unused. The Superior Court’s executive committee, she continued, decided that to be good stewards of the grants, they couldn’t keep asking for big money and then let the dollars sit.

Of more concern, Amy Jones said, was the way the court had been run for years. Some participants do not have a pending case, while others have one but are not transferred to the recovery court. This is different from all other family recovery courts in the state and impacts the level of accountability the court can provide.

“Participants in the family recovery court went there voluntarily,” Amy Jones said. “Some of them don’t have case numbers. It’s not recorded. It’s kind of a group therapy session, that’s what it is, between them, which is very different from how family recovery courts are run across the state.

Anna Chaney credits the support and help she received in Family Rehabilitation Court with saving her life.

A crack addict for 22 years, Chaney took nearly two years to graduate from rehabilitation court. Her life went from an abusive relationship, homelessness, prostitution and losing custody of her youngest child at the Indiana Department of Children’s Services to working as a parent liaison. at his daughter’s old school and drug use on weekends.

Chaney came to rely on social workers and rehabilitation court counselors, so when she relapsed, she called them first.

“I still had a circle of support. Even though I screwed up, they weren’t ready to let me down,” Chaney said. “Your closest family, they’re just sick of it all and, this kind of tough love stuff, (they say), ‘I have to give you up until you’re ready.’ And that’s the thing, family recovery court doesn’t let you down.

Anna Chaney says the closure of the Marion County Family Recovery Court is not only a loss for current participants, but also for those who may have participated in the future. (IL Photo/Chad Williams)

Not enough support

In applying for the 2018 funding, the Marion County Family Recovery Court told SAMHSA that the goal was to serve 290 families over the term of the grant. The court wanted its participants to have a “statistically higher reunification rate” than families going through the traditional juvenile dependency court process, and that 80% of its graduates would have no CHINS or new related criminal charges. to drugs within a year of completing the program.

Reviewing the statistics, Amy Jones noted that at some point in 2021, the debt collection court had 30 attendees and a 15% graduation rate. She was unsure of the typical outcome of family restoration courts, but said that with “regular problem-solving courts”, a 60% graduation rate is not surprising.

“It was not a light decision at all,” Amy Jones said of the end of the family restoration court. “I never want to shut down a problem-solving court, but when it’s not working the way it should, maybe it’s time to call it back, revamp it and see if there’s a better way to do it. do in the future. in the model and which is more in line with the spirit of the guidelines and rules of the problem solving tribunals.

Mark Jones

Mark Jones rejected the claim that the recovery court has no liability. He said the liability comes from the fact that the court is ethically bound to inform the authorities if the participants begin to engage in illegal acts. Additionally, with DCS involved in both CHINS Court and Family Rehabilitation Court, the agency knows how participants are doing and can either advance or delay reunification.

The former judge acknowledged the difficulty of overcoming drug addiction and how it can lead to mixed results in rehabilitation court. Some parents reunite with their children and never abuse drugs again, while others fall back into old habits and lose their families again. Still, Mark Jones said he thinks the recovery court fills a critical need.

“I don’t think we as a system, whether in Marion County or elsewhere, are providing enough support, especially for parents who are struggling with addictions,” he said. “I think it was a way of providing support and at the same time being accountable because of the nature of the family restoration court in conjunction with the CHINS cases.”

After celebrating two years of sobriety, Chaney is now a certified peer recovery trainer and works at the Volunteers of America residential treatment center in downtown Indianapolis. She also regained custody of her now 13-year-old daughter.

Chaney attends Family Rehabilitation Court sessions to help participants and advocate for the success of the program, even with the most reluctant mothers.

“I can’t understand how a group of very well-educated individuals can sit on top of the executive committee and think that closing the Family Restoration Court benefits anyone anywhere,” he said. said Chaney. “…I can tell you that I wouldn’t be where I am professionally or in my recovery where I am or where I am as a mother without participating in family recovery court. They literally saved my life. »•

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