New Treatment Court Aimed At Bringing Families Back Together

By: Tyler Murphy

NORWICH – Chenango County has began implementation of a Family Treatment Court aimed at restoring families torn apart by substance addiction through strict rehabilitation of the parents.

“In criminal treatment court, if you fail you just have to go jail or prison, but eventually it’s over with. In Family Treatment Court, the stakes are much higher because if you fail, you lose your children and you don’t get over that,” said Chenango County Family Court Judge W. Howard Sullivan.

The judge announced the start of the court on May 1, which is National Law Day and May is National Treatment Court Month.

Family Court Clerk Carole Dunham explained that many of those eligible for the treatment already had their parental rights called into question by the Department of Social Services, which in some cases files a petition with the court seeking to remove the children from the home and to terminate or severely limit the parent’s rights.

The judge explained that where the regular legal system would leave many without any options to retain custody, Family Treatment Court would offer another chance to those willing to adhere to its strict requirements.

Many of those requirements are determined on a case-by-case basis, explained Treatment Court Coordinator James Everard.

“For instance if a candidate shows they have an issue with anger management, then they’ll have to attend anger management treatment in addition to all the other obligations,” he said.

Everard explained that some of those general obligations included random drug tests, required weekly court appearance, mandated attendance at treatment programs outside of family court and more.

“If someone is at a point in their life where they’re ready to tackle their substance abuse problems and want to get their life back together, then this is a huge opportunity for them,” said Everard.

The treatment program will have different phases of accomplishment where those who follow the court’s direction, while also displaying a level of personal motivation, move forward toward the eventual goal of having their parental rights restored.

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