Other Voices

Collaboration is key to strengthen families and at-risk children

Tarrant County’s Family Drug Court was started in 2007.
Tarrant County’s Family Drug Court was started in 2007. Star-Telegram

The Family Drug Court and the Safe Babies initiative put Tarrant County’s reputation for collaboration to a difficult but successful test.

As parents with substance use disorder in Child Protective Services cases come through my courtroom, I see the struggles they have bonding with their children.

CPS is tasked with providing families services to strengthen families so children can be safe at home.

To better support families, we brought a number of collaborators into the courtroom so that, together, we can care for our community’s most vulnerable.

As part of National Mental Health Month and National Drug Court Month, I want to share two programs we have created to enhance services to children and parents, to strengthen families, our children and our community.

Tarrant County Family Drug Court was created in 2007 as a specialty court providing meaningful substance use treatment for parents, as well as wrap-around services and case management for families in CPS cases.

Our success with these difficult cases has increased significantly by incorporating partners from agencies such as CASA of Tarrant County, Early Childhood Intervention and treatment providers into the courtroom and process.

“I was lost, confused and defeated,” said Yvonne, who successfully participated in Family Drug Court and regained custody of her daughter.

“The Family Drug Court program helped me rebuild my life and I am happier today than I have ever been.”

Yvonne asked that her full name not be published.

“Traditional CPS cases do not have the oversight that comes with the Family Drug Court program,” said Joanna Letz with Department of Family and Protective Services.

“Clients receive assistance with more services than in a traditional case with regard to more drug testing, intensive counseling, housing options and extended visitation with their children just to name a few.

“The accountability for the client is much higher and thus leads to better reunification outcomes for families.”

ECI is one of those services.

ECI provides support and services to babies from infancy through age 3 in the home of both the foster parents and birth parents.

The ECI coaching model supports the lifelong relationship of caregivers with the child.

Through coaching, the program enhances family visitation, parenting skills and infant development.

“We support development through relationships,” said Meghan Glovier, clinical director for ECI.

“All parents have strengths, and we are building the parents’ capacity by coaching them.”

Safe Babies Tarrant County, a new initiative, seeks to lessen the impact of abuse and neglect and increase the likelihood of reunification of these children with their parents.

“On our own, none of us would be successful. But as we’ve come together, the courts, CPS, CASA, foster parents, child placing agencies and ECI, we have the power to make small changes that add up to systemic and long-lasting change,” said Sadie Funk, executive director of First3Years, which administers the Safe Babies initiative.

Amanda Spharler, caseworker for CASA and former foster parent, agrees.

“Parents and foster parents are being brought together and collaborating as a team,” she said.

“The most exciting part of this program is to see the foster parents empowering the families with positive encouragement and the resulting confidence gained when parents find a way to make an emotional connection with their children.”

CPS has very difficult work to do in our community.

We can improve outcomes for families in crisis if we find ways to partner with CPS to help the system support our communities’ children.

I thank Tarrant County, our partner agencies, foster parents, and you for your support of Tarrant County families.

Ellen Smith is an associate judge in the 323rd District Court and presides over the Tarrant County Family Drug Court.