State court systems are also stepping up to help children, especially those who are victims of the opioid epidemic.
“Everything we know about opioid addiction tells us that an addicted parent will be unlikely to move from addiction to safe parenting, or achieve sobriety, within the timeframes set for children to have a proper nurturing home.” Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said. “Recovering in time to meet the normal permanency timeframes is extremely difficult for parents with opiate addictions. Why? Because the paths to recovery can be long and often there’s a scarcity of resources to support addicts. Permanency planning must be based on the best interests of the child, and the child’s needs and the parent’s recovery paths usually don’t line up when it comes to opioids.”
The Ohio court system is working to tackle this issue with Family Dependency Treatment Courts, or FDTCs, O’Connor said.
“Currently, 30 of Ohio’s 88 juvenile courts have an FDTC that’s certified by the Supreme Court of Ohio,” she said. “The number of FDTCs has grown in the last few years, yet we need to recruit more counties to launch FDTCs. National research findings have demonstrated better results for families when substance-abusing mothers participate in a family drug court.”
According to O’Connor, early identification of cases involving substance use disorder, immediate access to treatment services and support and more judicial oversight to ensure accountability of all parties can lead to better outcomes for families.
Nationally, the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children, or ICPC, is working to catch up with the states. The Association of Administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, or AAICPC, is working to pass a new interstate compact that will address the deficiencies of the current compact, which was established in 1960.
As the AAICPC notes in a policy brief issued in 2013, “While the 20th century welcomed the current ICPC as a novel and useful process for negotiating interstate placements and sustaining care and well-being of children placed beyond a state’s borders and its jurisdictional authority … the current ICPC at best, provides for a fragmented system that breeds an inefficient and sometimes ineffective use of time and resources on the part of state and county governments, the courts, and stakeholders … .”
Particularly important is the new ICPC’s approach to the interstate placement of children. The current compact causes delays in interstate placements that leave children in foster care awaiting interstate processing and placement six months to one year or more. The traumatic impact of state intervention on children can be lessened if the child can be placed with relatives quickly. However, a state’s ability to bring about these cross-border, emergency placements are difficult given the lack of interstate cooperation, even when willing relatives are available.
Addressing this issue is one of the goals of the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative, or RJOI. RJOI comprises of state court leaders in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee and is the result of the Regional Judicial Opioid Summit held in 2016.
Officials in RJOI states are noticing a significant increase in cases where expedited, cross-border emergency placement would help already traumatized kids. While several counties situated on state borders have developed agreements to expedite these types of placement with family members, these agreements, while helpful, are inadequate to address the scope of the problem.
Emergency placement and foster care is a difficult issue to tackle, but states are adapting. Through best practices and establishing partnerships with outside agencies and leaders, states are demonstrating that by continuing to work together and focusing on supporting families, outcomes can continue to improve.
“Our children are our future, I can’t stress this enough,” Akbari said. “I think that if we can get them in a place where they can be whole in spite of what they’ve experienced then we are going to produce better results and that is the ultimate goal.”