A judge from Fort Dodge is among those making a personal appeal to legislators to provide state money to “Family Treatment Courts” that work to help parents suffering from sort of addiction who are in danger of having their parental rights terminated. Kurt Wilke — the chief judge in Iowa’s second judicial district — started the program in his area in October and eight parents are now meeting once a week with a “team” of people who’ve volunteered to help steer the parent in a new direction.
“Sobriety is defined, as far as we’re concerned, with total absence of usage of any drugs or alcohol,” Wilke said this afternoon as he spoke about the program during a state senate committee meeting.
Heather McClaren, the mother of five children between the ages of 13 and two, is one of the participants.
“Going into the program and volunteering was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” she told senators. “I have not been sober since I was 14 years old unless I was pregnant…I’ve tried being sober before. I’ve tried a million times. I’ve tried it on my own. I’ve tried it through in-patient rehab, out-patient rehab.”
But working with the judge, lawyers and other volunteers in the program, McClaren has been sober for 94 days, plus she has a job and has found a new place to live.
“Being a part of Family Treatment Court, I have people that you normally wouldn’t see people like me hang out with and having them support you and be there for you any time you need them is very phenomenal,” McClaren said.
McClaren told lawmakers she is “incredibly grateful” for the opportunity this program has provided her.
“I am totally a different person than I was when I first walked into those doors,” McClaren said. “My thinking is different. My future is beautiful and I know that my kids are going to be a lot happier. I’m very blessed to have been part of this.”
Federal grants for these Family Treatment Courts have run out and the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court has asked legislators to provide $120,000 in state money to keep six Family Treatment Courts operating around the state.
Over the past seven years, nearly 600 parents have gone through the Family Treatment Court experience and 94 percent of the nearly 1000 children who were returned to their parents did not get mistreated again, according to court records.