Friday, December 22, 2006

Increased rate of substance abuse, decreased funding for family drug courts

Editorial: Drugs and dependency
Louisville Courier-Journal, Sept. 19, 2006, pg. A6.

The recent outrage of Jefferson County's Family Drug Court nearly going out business for lack of funding was underscored last Friday, when Tom Emberton, the state's social services commissioner, accurately told a state task force that substance abuse is "a horrific problem" in this state.

It's so horrific that abuse of alcohol or drugs now lies behind eight of every 10 cases in which the state must remove children from their parents' care. It's so horrific that "half of the cases investigated by state social workers involved drug or alcohol abuse," The Courier-Journal's Deborah Yetter reported.

The task force is investigating the child welfare system, especially allegations that children of poor Kentuckians are unnecessarily being taken away and sped toward adoption.

Mr. Emberton said that his department is looking to create more programs to reduce substance abuse and keep families intact.

Of course, that's what Jefferson Family Drug Court has done so successfully since 2002, which explains the outrage last month when it appeared that, without state funding, the court would have to shut down.

Fortunately, Mr. Emberton is an ally, and his department is putting up the $287,000 that will keep the court in business throughout this fiscal year.

The task force, meanwhile, also heard Friday from family court judges from Jefferson, Boyle and Pike counties. They agreed that Kentucky's child welfare system is overwhelmed, but disputed that poor Kentuckians are discriminated against in child custody cases. They remove children permanently, they insisted, only when they find little to no hope that their safety can be guaranteed in their parents' care.

But without effective substance abuse programs and aggressive efforts such as drug courts, there will continue to be too little hope for too many families.

The task force will do a service by looking deeply and broadly at the forces endangering children and their families and at the adequacy of the state's efforts to combat them.


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