Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
- This strategy can help prevent violence. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
- Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Offering treatment and ensuring family members’ safety: Family treatment courts (FTCs) are specialized court docket programs for child maltreatment cases in which parental substance use is a factor. They aim to help parents achieve a stable recovery, ensure children have safe and permanent homes, and connect all family members to the services and supports they need.
Diverting families to an FTC: Families can be referred to an FTC by their attorney, a social worker, a family court judge, or other court personnel. Typically, families are diverted to an FTC after a child welfare agency has filed a petition in court alleging abuse or neglect, though some courts allow referrals before a petition is made.
Providing services tailored to each family member: Once referred, the FTC team screens family members to assess their eligibility, identify their needs, and develop a treatment plan. Family members with substance use disorders have access to evidence-based treatments, often provided through partnerships with community health care providers. Additionally, all family members receive comprehensive case management services to promote their wellbeing and address barriers to participation.
Promoting accountability: FTCs often require regular drug testing and judicial monitoring to ensure compliance with treatment plans. In cases of non-compliance, FTCs can use a range of therapeutic interventions, like adjusting treatments or instituting a system of rewards and sanctions, to promote behavioral change.
Taking a collaborative approach: FTCs are managed by multidisciplinary teams, often consisting of judicial, corrections, treatment, social services, and child welfare professionals. This approach encourages collaboration between stakeholders, like prosecutors and defense attorneys, who might otherwise have an adversarial relationship.
Evidence and impacts
Ranked as having the highest level of evidence by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps
Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that family treatment drug court is a well-supported alternative to incarceration for families with substance use disorders.
- A 2016 systematic review identified family treatment drug courts as a scientifically supported strategy for increasing family reunification and increasing substance use disorder treatment.
Best practices in implementation
Set clear eligibility criteria and screening procedures: FTCs are most effective for families that require frequent judicial oversight and high levels of support and monitoring. As such, programs should set eligibility criteria to select for families with individuals with severe substance use disorders and who pose a high risk of repeating criminal behavior. To reliably assess risk and identify families’ needs, FTCs should use standardized and empirically-validated assessment tools when screening referred families.
Create a fair process: Participants who perceive drug courts as fair have higher rates of program compliance and lower rates of criminal behavior and drug use. FTCs can increase participants’ sense of procedural justice by writing and disseminating requirements and policies in easily-understandable language, developing a clear and predictable set of sanctions and incentives, and actively engaging families in designing their treatment plan.
Reduce risks through monitoring, engagement, and oversight: FTCs face two primary risks - that children could experience additional maltreatment or that parents could fail to complete treatment. Interventions that can decrease these risks include monitoring for compliance, consistent engagement of families, and active judicial oversight.
Establish partnerships with a range of service providers: FTCs should develop relationships with a range of community-based treatment providers to ensure that participants have access to the appropriate treatment modality. Evidence-based treatment modalities include medication-assisted treatment, inpatient rehabilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more.
Measure program performance: FTCs should collect data on participant progress and establish a set of program-wide performance metrics (e.g., drop-off rate for prospective participants). Doing so encourages shared accountability across stakeholder groups, allows for continuous improvement of policies and practices, and enables the FTC to demonstrate its success to community members and public officials.