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New Court System Aims At Healing Families Torn By Opiate Addiction

This month in Clermont County, a new court aimed at reuniting families torn apart by drug abuse will begin operation. The Clermont County Family Dependency Treatment Court was inspired by a local judge. He says 45 percent of Children’s Protective Services home removals in that county are because the children’s parents are addicted to heroin or other opiates.  “What we’ve found in our court system is that parents’ drug use impacts children dramatically, especially here in Clermont County,” Probate/Juvenile Judge James A. Shriver said.

Shriver and Angela Livesay, the Family Dependency Treatment Court coordinator, announced the start of Clermont County’s new court Sept. 9 at the Batavia Township Community Center. The specialized docket was developed with local agencies such as Clermont County Children’s Protective Services, Clermont Recovery Center, the Clermont County Health and Recovery Board, and members of the county prosecutor’s office including those in the legal community.

The new court, which is expected to start operating at the end of the month, is aimed at keeping Clermont County parents with substance abuse problems sober and help them complete their treatment within one year of entering the program. Another goal is to reduce their children’s out-of-home placements, as well as the duration of those placements.

Family dependency treatment courts have shown success in keeping parents sober as well as reuniting families separated mainly because of parents drug addictions.  Nationally, the number of heroin users is up 75 percent from five years ago, and Ohio’s overdose death rate is growing faster than the nation’s, Shriver said.

In 2013, Clermont County had the highest unintentional opiate death rate in Ohio. The county also had the state’s largest increase in deaths from opiate overdoses between 2000 and 2010. “Last year in the Clermont County Juvenile Court, we saw a 64 percent increase in the number of case filings from children’s services,” Shriver said. “At last count, there were 333 children in placement. The bulk of those children were placed as a result of parents who had opiate issues and could not care for their children.” The new court will serve about 15 families at any given time.

“We would like to start with around five to seven families, but we’ll start whenever we have people who are ready for the program,” Livesay said. To qualify, a participant has to have had their children removed from the home by Clermont County Children’s Protective Services due to the parent’s moderate to severe drug problem. The parent must want to have their children returned and be willing to take part in a 12-step sober support program such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Unlike other court programs, the judge can offer incentives – everything from certificates of achievement for sobriety milestones to gift certificates to public recognition. Those who don’t comply with all of the voluntary program’s requirements, including twice-a-week random drug screenings, will face sanctions.

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