Problem-Solving Courts

In recent years, Problem-Solving Courts, also referred to as Specialty Courts, have been established to deal with the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior.  We’re going to take a closer look today at two of these courts.

The following information on Family Drug Courts (in quotes) and additional information is from an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention document:

Family Drug Courts (FDCs) handle cases of child abuse and neglect that involve substance use by the child’s parents or guardians (Brook et al. 2015; Chuang et al. 2012). The overall goal of FDCs is to reduce child maltreatment by treating parents’ underlying substance use disorders through a coordinated and collaborative approach that involves a multitude of agencies and professionals such as the court system, child protective services (CPS), substance use treatment providers, and the attorneys involved in the case (Pach 2008; Gifford et al.).

FDCs identify and assess parents’ needs, provide access to treatment, attempt to remove barriers that may impact successful completion of treatment (such as helping parents to develop skills to achieve recovery), and provide ongoing monitoring of parental compliance (Pach 2008).  Children’s needs are simultaneously addressed, as the likelihood of reunification is increased when family and children’s services are provided at a high level in substance use treatment (Grella et al. 2009).

There have been fewer evaluation studies (less than 20) conducted on the effectiveness of FDCs, compared with the number of studies (more than 50) of adult drug courts (Gifford et al. 2014; van Wormer and Hsieh 2016).  A descriptive study of the Children Affected by Methamphetamine (CAM) grant program found that when child-focused services with adult recovery-support services were offered in the FDC setting, parental substance use was reduced, parents’ participation in substance use disorder treatment was improved, children were subjected to less neglect and abuse, and out-of-home placements were shorter (Rodi et al. 2015).”

The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) administers the Mental Health Courts Program.

The following information (in quotes) on Mental Health Courts and additional information is available on the BJA Website:

“Mental health courts typically involve judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other court personnel who have expressed an interest in or possess particular mental health expertise. The courts generally deal with nonviolent offenders who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. Today, more than 150 of these courts exist, and more are being planned.

The goal of BJA’s Mental Health Court grant program is to decrease the frequency of clients’ contacts with the criminal justice system by providing courts with resources to improve clients’ social functioning and link them to employment, housing, treatment, and support services.

BJA funds projects that emphasize:

  • Continuing judicial supervision—including periodic review—over preliminarily qualified offenders with mental illness or co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders who are charged with misdemeanors and/or nonviolent offenses.
  • Specialized training of criminal justice personnel to identify and address the unique needs of offenders who are mentally ill or intellectually disabled.
  • Voluntary outpatient or inpatient mental health treatment, in the least restrictive manner appropriate as determined by the court, that carries with it the possibility of dismissal of charges or reduced sentencing on successful completion of treatment.
  • Centralized case management and the coordination of all mental health treatment plans and social services, including life skills training, placement, health care, and relapse prevention.”

A research study by the Urban Institute of two long-standing Mental Health Courts in Brooklyn and Bronx, New York, found that mental health court participants are significantly less likely to recidivate than similar offenders with mental illness who experience business-as-usual court processing.

For a look at Safe Babies Court Teams, visit the Preserving Families Blog at


Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director




Fathers and Reunification

Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner at the Children’s Bureau, introduces two  events observed in June that he believes are closely related:

“The month of June provides two causes for celebration in the child welfare world, Father’s Day and National Reunification Month. Both allow us the opportunity to reflect on the importance of families. Both also prompt us to redouble our efforts to strengthen families and do everything we can as a system and in our communities to respect and nurture the integrity of the parent-child relationship.

Reunification Month is a time to celebrate resiliency, hard work, and the power of families to heal. It is a time to acknowledge perseverance and commit to seeking positive outcomes for families separated through foster care. Parents that achieve reunification often have overcome great odds—and too often without adequate support. Their achievement is a demonstration of parental love and its ability to propel change.”

Well said!  What follows are some of the specific ways that father involvement and reunification are linked.  Children in single parent households are at greater risk of child abuse and neglect. Research shows that when fathers are involved:

  • Children have shorter lengths of stay in foster care, fewer placement episodes, and greater stability in foster care
  • Children are more likely to be reunified
  • Reunifications are more durable

The father’s family can also play a role in reunification. NFPN’s early research on father involvement demonstrated that social workers who received training and assistance were more likely to involve the father’s family with the child and in the case plan.  Winokur et al. (2014) report that children placed with kin have more placement stability and higher rates of behavioral and emotional well-being than children placed with unrelated caregivers.

Involving the father and the father’s family needs to begin early in the intervention.  In NFPN’s research study, social workers’ efforts to involve fathers tended to taper off after six months.  In another study, the worker established either a trusting working relationship or no working relationship with the parent(s) within three weeks of the referral.

Coakley, Kelley, & Bartlett (2014) provide some steps for engaging fathers:

1.Use diligent efforts to identify, find, communicate with, and engage fathers

2. Offer fathers the same services and supports that mothers receive, and treat them equally

3.Address father-specific needs (community services, father support groups, counseling, housing and employment services, etc.)

4.Ensure a constructive worker-father relationship

During this month of June, there are many resources to choose from on both father involvement and reunification.  Here are just a few:

The Birth Parent National Network is sponsoring a Reunification webinar on June 28, featuring Mimi Laver with the American Bar Association.  You can register for the webinar at

A parents’ handbook for reunification is available at

A research article on father engagement and involvement can be found here:

A report from the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network on state approaches to including fathers in programs and practices:

Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director



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