New Bartholomew County court aims to help drug-addicted parents

BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind. -  A central Indiana county is creating a new way to deal with cases that involved drug-addicted parents.

Bartholomew County is ready to launch the Family Recovery Court to help support people going through treatment and ensure more stability for their children.

In recent years, the Indiana Department of Child Services has seen an increase in the number of children in the state's care. Many of those children come from homes where parents are struggling with an opioid addiction.

"The children that we’re serving are frequently the silent victims of the addiction crisis," said Rick Scalf, from Advocates for Children. "A lot of times these children are left in limbo waiting to see what happens."

Courts around the state have also seen the number of Children In Need of Services (CHINS) cases go up.

"There isn’t enough time on the court docket to hold the hearings," said Heather Mollo, Juvenile Court Magistrate in Bartholomew County. "There’s waiting lists for the guardian ad litem. Certainly increases in the need to have more family cases managers."

In 2016, there weer 436 children in the county with open CHINS cases. According to Mollo, 95 percent of those cases involved a drug addicted parent.

So, Mollo and other members of the court team decided to change their approach.

The creation of the family recovery court means the people going through the process will meet weekly with key players such as a treatment representative, a DCS case worker and a member of the court. All of them will be focused on helping an individual beat their addiction.

"We are hoping if we can have that be a constant review that we will be able to see these children get out of that anxiousness about 'Where am I? How is this going to end?'" Mollo said.

There will be rewards for those who meet the requirements of sobriety. A small closet in a courtroom is filled with items like diapers, household cleaning supplies and more. Those who meet the responsibilities the court assigns them will be able to "shop" for rewards.

All of this is to forge a long-term path to stability for kids stuck in the system.

"We hope by doing that, we will be able to shorten the time for children in foster care and have a higher rate of reunification for the family," Mollo said.

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