Local family drug courts prove effective in family reunification | Local News


All through her residence, Ashley Sweigart has hung indicators given to her by a detailed pal to assist her get via exhausting moments throughout her dependancy restoration.

Ashley Sweigart had simply completed taking just a few Roxicodone ache tablets and had sat again to observe TV in her bed room when she heard a automobile pull up exterior her trailer.

It was the day after Christmas 2018, and her son and stepdaughter have been in the lounge taking part in with their new toys. Ashley walked out via the again door and met an unmarked silver automobile exterior. Two girls stepped out and Ashley’s coronary heart dropped when she noticed the badges swinging from their necks: Bedford County Division of Social Providers.

They got here inside and advised her she had been the topic of a kid protecting companies report. The caller had mentioned Ashley had been utilizing medication in entrance of her youngsters. The ladies requested her to take a drug check whereas they regarded across the trailer, checking for operating water and meals within the fridge.

Ashley returned together with her pattern, however she already knew she was going to fail for weed, opiates, suboxone and benzodiazepines.

Ashley defined to the social employees that she had been partying throughout the vacation and so they caught her at a foul time. They accepted her story and advised her they’d be again someday the subsequent week.

Every single day, Ashley peered via her blinds, ready for them to come back. Each automobile she heard drive up the mountain was certain to be them with one other urine check in hand. She was nervous and anxious, however she nonetheless couldn’t cease utilizing.

The social employees did return, and Ashley failed the drug check once more. And once more. And once more. And once more. She misplaced custody of her son, Jordan, that February. He left courtroom that day along with his grandmother, and the social employees put into place a plan that allowed solely supervised visits between Ashley and her son and required Ashley to get sober earlier than Jordan may transfer again residence.

“You guys expect me to not get excessive anymore, however you simply took the one factor that issues to me,” she thought. “Why not get excessive? You’re taking an important factor away.”

Ashley went again residence, continued to make use of and fought her social employees each step of the best way — stubborn them, threatened them, mentioned no matter reckless factor got here to thoughts. It went on for shut to 3 months earlier than she realized that she wasn’t getting wherever, and that it was changing into increasingly more seemingly she would by no means have custody of her son once more.

So Ashley picked up a pen and signed herself up for Bedford County’s household drug therapy courtroom program.


Ashley Sweigart, 33, and her son, Jordan, 11, are pictured exterior their residence in Thaxton. Sweigart’s love for and dedication to her son helped her get via a household drug courtroom program provided by Bedford County. She graduated from this system a yr in the past and is grateful to have her personal place and a very good job.

Bedford County began its household drug courtroom in 2018. It’s one in all two applications in Southwest Virginia and one in all solely 4 within the state, regardless of the success of comparable applications nationwide and a longstanding physique of analysis exhibiting their profit.

Household drug courts serve adults who’ve substance abuse points and an lively baby protecting companies or foster care case. Their objective is to reunify dad and mom with their kids, or to assist them keep custody and keep away from foster care within the first place.

The primary household drug courts have been launched within the mid-Nineties to assist substance-abusing dad and mom, who have been steadily unable to reunify with their kids, in line with analysis from the Nationwide Affiliation of Drug Courtroom Professionals in Alexandria. The affiliation discovered that folks with substance abuse points had problem attaining and sustaining sobriety, with greater than 80% failing therapy.

At present, the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers estimates that as many as two-thirds of kid maltreatment instances contain some extent of substance use.

Family drug courts in the U.S.

The US had 10 household drug courts in 1999, a quantity that has now grown to greater than 300. Over time, research have proven that folks in household drug courtroom applications usually tend to full substance abuse therapy and regain custody of their kids than these in typical reunification strategies. Kids of those dad and mom additionally spend much less time in foster care or different out-of-home placements.

Jane Pfeifer, program director on the nationwide nonprofit Kids and Household Futures, leads the group’s household drug courtroom coaching and technical help program. She mentioned the courts are so profitable as a result of they handle the wants of your complete household and are in a position to rapidly establish extra companies and put them in place. 

“These applications aren’t nearly substance use therapy,” she mentioned. “The courts present intensive coordinated case planning and wraparound companies. The household might have extra companies or assist and so they actually take a look at the broad base of the household’s wants: psychological well being, trauma, poverty and different components.” 

Regardless of the successes, household drug courtroom applications are usually not extensively used throughout Virginia, and the variety of individuals has different from yr to yr, from 21 to 68 between 2009 and 2020. Virginia is just not alone in these numbers. Some states have dozens of household drug courts whereas others have zero.

Chris Deutsch, communications director of the Nationwide Affiliation of Drug Courtroom Professionals, mentioned there may be limitations to beginning a household drug courtroom. Stigma is one.

“Regardless that we’ve come a good distance in our understanding of dependancy and therapy and our notion that folks can and do get better, there’s nonetheless a widespread stigma round these points,” he mentioned. “When these people are concerned within the justice system, there’s a pervasive angle that they need to be punished first. It’s a departure from how justice has been carried out on this nation.”

He mentioned as soon as individuals see how this system works and perceive it’s not a “get out of jail free” card, the general public can start to just accept it. However persuading stakeholders and resource-strapped social companies departments to tackle extra work is one other concern.

Bedford County social companies director Andy Crawford mentioned beginning this system took sacrifices from his division, the courtroom system and personal suppliers. No extra funding was obtainable to get this system off the bottom, so every workplace was required to make use of assets it already had.

A juvenile and home relations courtroom decide put aside time on the docket every week to work with the individuals. The Division of Social Providers assigned a workers member to handle the instances. Horizon Behavioral Well being, the group that gives a number of the therapy, put aside time for its substance abuse counselors and case managers to tackle the brand new shoppers. And the well being division donated a part-time peer assist employee to this system.

“We occurred to have the proper stage of assets on the proper time to plug it in and go,” Crawford mentioned. “We’ve the assist in any respect ranges to make it work. Foster care may be very costly and it’s not good for teenagers. So if in case you have households which have kids positioned in foster care, that’s costing some huge cash. We’re seeing youngsters go residence, and even higher, we’re not seeing them come again.”

Crawford mentioned it required collaboration and willingness from every accomplice to get this system off the bottom. Now that it’s operating effectively, they are going to have the ability to broaden.

In June, the county was awarded a $1.9 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Psychological Well being Providers Administration. The grant will probably be administered over 5 years and has allowed the county to rent extra individuals solely devoted to this system.

Bedford County began its household drug courtroom with 5 individuals. Within the two years since, 26 individuals have been enrolled. Six have left this system, some shifting out of the realm and others unable to finish the necessities. One other six have graduated. This system presently has 18 enrolled and a ready record of six.

With the brand new workers, this system will have the ability to accommodate 40 individuals at a time. Extra individuals means fewer kids within the foster care system long run.

“Native companies can do issues otherwise in the event that they collaborate with their companions and suppose exterior the field and have some native cash they are often versatile with,” Crawford mentioned. “One factor about Bedford County is that they don’t need issues to be unhealthy, and so they don’t accept ‘That’s simply the best way it’s.’”

One week after Ashley signed up for the household drug courtroom program, her social employee drove her to LewisGale Medical Heart in Salem to undergo a medical detox, the place medical doctors may monitor her signs as she got here off alcohol and drugs like Xanax.

Ashley mentioned she was excessive on the time and doesn’t keep in mind a lot of the consumption course of, however she does keep in mind her social employee, Hope Brown, staying together with her till she was settled.

At first, Ashley was irritated. She’d signed up for this system as a result of it was the one method she may work out get her son again.

“I did not need to be there, I did not really feel that I wanted to be there,” she mentioned. “I used to be doing it to make CPS completely satisfied.”

Ashley attended 9 conferences a day: Narcotics Nameless, Alcoholics Nameless, group remedy and particular person remedy. She began listening to tales from fellow addicts that sounded rather a lot like her personal.


Ashley Sweigart counts her days of being sober and retains her Narcotics Nameless key tags neatly organized and close by. She has been clear for practically two years and doesn’t need to return to day one. She has a restoration tattoo on her forearm symbolizing damaged dependancy.

Others didn’t. Ashley listened to a mom say she hadn’t seen her son in six years and others who had been within the hospital for detox a number of occasions.

Ashley didn’t need that to turn into her story.

One night time, she stayed up all night time speaking together with her roommate within the hospital. They talked about every part — childhood traumas, her roommate’s overdose and five-year coma, the alternatives they’d made and the alternatives they have been going to must make after they obtained out. Ashley calls it her “Saturday night time epiphany.”

The subsequent day, she cried in each assembly as she opened as much as her group.

“I knew every part was going to vary, the chums I had, the locations I went, my relationship, my job,” she mentioned. “My complete life was the wrong way up. I used to be terrified. However then I obtained out of detox, and I knew what I wanted to do.”

Bedford County social companies workers noticed drug use crop up in numerous social companies instances and turn into one of many major limitations to returning kids to their dad and mom. However for the previous 10 years, social employees had seen a good larger enhance in methamphetamine use.

Crawford mentioned dad and mom who have been utilizing methamphetamine struggled much more to reunite with their kids than dad and mom utilizing different addictive medication. Therapy and punishments weren’t working and reunification was practically not possible.

The chemical substances in methamphetamine require an extended interval of therapy for the mind to heal and may have an effect on reminiscence and impulse management. Households scuffling with meth dependancy have been usually not attending visitations or therapy appointments as a result of they’d merely neglect, mentioned Jennifer Smith-Ramey, substance use program supervisor at Horizon Behavioral Well being.

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“It takes some time for his or her cognitions to enhance as soon as they’re off of meth,” Smith-Ramey mentioned. “Opioid, marijuana and alcohol customers can return to a baseline a lot quicker. And that was one other side of the drug courtroom program: The therapy interval is for much longer than others.”

Bedford County bases its program on a five-phase mannequin. Individuals transfer via every part as they full remedy and courses and obtain a sure stage of sobriety.

The primary part requires individuals to attend courtroom, take part in about six therapy and group teams and submit three drug screens each week. The part lasts at the very least 60 days and individuals should be clear for 14 consecutive days earlier than they will transfer onto the subsequent stage.


Bobby Jo Alston, household companies specialist with the Bedford County Division of Social Providers, mentioned she had hope for Nick Creasy, regardless of his reluctance to affix the household drug courtroom program. “I knew that if he may commit and we may get a bit of little bit of sobriety behind him that he would get there,” she mentioned.

By the fifth part, individuals should attend about two therapy and group teams per week, submit to 2 drug screens each week and attend courtroom as soon as a month.

All through these phases, individuals take parenting courses, home violence courses and particular person remedy. Though there are tips for a way lengthy every part ought to take, individuals transfer at their very own tempo, mentioned household companies specialist Bobby Jo Alston, who works with the county social companies division.

“We do psychologicals to see what sorts of helps we have to put in place for individuals or childhood traumas they haven’t handled,” Alston mentioned. “It’s not checking off bins. We’re searching for an total behavioral change to allow them to have that long-term restoration.”

Each workers and individuals say it’s a troublesome program, crammed with accountability. The variety of appointments, applications and necessities could make it troublesome for individuals to keep it up.


Nick Creasy, 32, and his spouse, Christina Creasy, 35, stand exterior the Bedford County courthouse. Each are taking part within the county’s household drug courtroom program.

Nick Creasy and his spouse are presently in this system in Bedford County. He and his spouse share one baby and lift others from her earlier relationships; they’re working via this system to regain custody.

Creasy mentioned he signed onto this system in June 2020 after an preliminary reluctance.

“At first, I didn’t suppose I had an issue, I didn’t suppose I wanted assist,” Creasy mentioned. “I simply needed everyone to go away me the hell alone. I felt like I used to be being pushed into doing one thing I actually didn’t need to do.”

Creasy mentioned he regularly tried to run from Alston, who was assigned to his case. When she pulled into the driveway, he would run out the again door and drive away. However Alston saved coming again and advised Creasy she noticed one thing in him. Finally, he got here round.

“When Nick would cease operating from me and we may even have a dialog, he could be so sincere with me about his use, and he was so clear in the place he was in his life and the way he was actually uninterested in it and bored with residing that method,” Alston mentioned. “I knew that if he may commit and we may get a bit of little bit of sobriety behind him that he would get there.”

Creasy went to a couple days of rehab however mentioned he couldn’t stick it out. He ultimately served eight hours in jail, the place he sobered up. After that he began intensive outpatient remedy and has been profitable in this system. In January, he moved to part 3, that means he had been clear for at the very least 45 consecutive days. His spouse, Christina, lately moved to part 4.


Nick Creasy, 32, at proper, and his spouse, Christina Creasy, 35, maintain cash they obtained from the Bedford County household drug courtroom program for making it via the totally different phases.

Alston mentioned Creasy has been an important asset to this system as he helps different individuals transfer via the phases. He’s attended his buddies’ felony hearings, given individuals rides to appointments and even helped them with residence enhancements.

“I ask on a regular basis if there’s one thing else I can do for any individual else,” Creasy mentioned. “I get rather a lot out of that. If I can get any individual else the place they should be, that’s what’s going to maintain me the place I should be.”

Ashley left detox Could 8, 2019, and began shifting via the phases one after the other. She mentioned she by no means had a optimistic drug check after leaving the hospital and has been sober ever since.

She discovered a gradual job with good pay and advantages and labored via behavioral remedy and intensive outpatient remedy. She didn’t personal a automobile, so Brown, her social employee, drove 8 miles up and down a mountain to take her to each appointment.

“She was instrumental in serving to me,” Ashley mentioned. “I wouldn’t be wherever with out her. I do know I wasn’t straightforward to be with. I do know I used to be aggravating and irritating and disrespectful, however she stayed with me.”


Ashley Sweigart makes rooster alfredo for dinner for herself and her son earlier than returning to work.

Brown mentioned she noticed previous Ashley’s tough exterior and knew it was exhausting for her to belief a social employee. In a program like this, she mentioned, individuals must know somebody is there for them.

“Individuals are fairly unstable coming into this system, and we’ve got to work with them to get them the place they should be,” Brown mentioned. “I do sacrifice loads of time for this system and the people that need assistance, whether or not that is at 6 within the morning or 8 at night time. We’re really there to assist assist individuals of their time of want.” 

Earlier than Ashley may regain custody of her son, she needed to discover a new place to stay. Her trailer was run-down. The ceiling leaked, the lavatory was falling aside and there was mould hiding within the crevices. It was cluttered and soiled and there wasn’t practically sufficient house for her and Jordan.

She appeared earlier than the decide in Bedford County that fall. The courtroom was prepared to supply her full custody once more, however Ashley advised the decide her life nonetheless wasn’t so as.

“I need him again,” she mentioned. “I simply need him residence, however I can’t sit right here and actually ask you to do this after I don’t know the place I’m going to be.”

The decide gave her one other 30 days to discover a new residence. She discovered a spot 9 days earlier than her subsequent courtroom look and was granted full custody of Jordan on Oct. 28, 2019.

The 2 of them moved in with two air mattresses, two televisions and the garments they owned. Now, Ashley has furnished your complete place on her personal.

“Abruptly, I wasn’t indignant on a regular basis,” Ashley mentioned. “I wasn’t unfavourable about every part. I used to be completely satisfied. And I do not actually know when that occurred, but it surely simply form of occurred by itself after which it turned the norm.”

Greater than a yr in the past, the social companies division in Giles County was persistently seeing substance use intertwined with baby welfare instances, very similar to in Bedford County.

David St. John, the household drug courtroom coordinator with New River Valley Neighborhood Providers, mentioned the county noticed a rise in methamphetamine and heroin use as prescribed drugs have been additional restricted. If dependancy wasn’t the primary wrongdoer in baby welfare instances, it performed an element in progressing the scenario to the purpose that social companies needed to intervene.

St. John mentioned Decide Stephanie Shortt, chief decide of the juvenile and home relations courtroom, did a lot of the legwork to get this system began. She approached the county administration and the social companies division to get the courtroom into its pilot part, which started in July 2019.

Shortt mentioned she turned a proponent of the drug courtroom mannequin whereas working as a public defender in Roanoke. She noticed the advantages and the restoration that was attainable and needed to convey that mannequin to the juvenile and home relations courtroom when she turned a decide.

Shortt convened stakeholder conferences with the social companies division, the commonwealth’s legal professional, guardians advert litem, court-appointed particular advocates and attorneys. Then she utilized on behalf of the locality to the Virginia Supreme Courtroom, which has remaining approval over this system.

The household drug courtroom has served six individuals up to now, with one graduate and one other set to complete in April. At this level, this system can have as much as three individuals at a time, St. John mentioned. At present, it has one.

4 individuals have dropped out of this system. St. John mentioned the therapy is strenuous and asks loads of individuals. Even with each device and useful resource obtainable, they received’t at all times achieve success.

“In loads of methods, it mirrors what we see in substance use and psychological well being therapy usually,” he mentioned. “Success isn’t at all times black and white. Individuals who don’t full this system aren’t failures or destined for bleak occasions. Some individuals simply aren’t prepared.”

Giles County is seeking to broaden its program with a household drug courtroom grant from the nationwide Workplace of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which awarded 24 grants totaling $22.9 million final yr. Charlottesville obtained a type of grants, $827,973, to assist its household drug courtroom program.

“I’ve been impressed with everyone utilizing the assets we’ve got as a result of we’re stretched skinny as it’s,” St. John mentioned. “It takes loads of collaboration to do that between courts, county administration, social companies and even simply people in the neighborhood. We’re all working to construct higher communities on the finish of the day.”

Social companies closed Ashley’s case in December, however Ashley was hesitant about being left on her personal. This system supplied fixed assist and accountability, and Ashley was nervous she would regress with out it.

However Alston advised her there was nothing the division may do for her that she wasn’t already doing for herself. Ashley has since turn into a sponsor for different girls in restoration and a peer restoration coach at an outpatient facility, and she or he works with the Central Virginia Habit and Restoration Sources Coalition. These are the communities that maintain her accountable now.


Ashley Sweigart, 33, and her son, Jordan, 11, play Monopoly of their residence in Thaxton. Sweigart graduated a yr in the past from the Bedford County household drug courtroom program, which she signed up for as a result of she didn’t need to lose her son.

Alston mentioned one of many objectives of this system is to offer individuals with group assist, so when social companies closes its case, they will proceed to achieve success.

Jordan, who’s now 11, likes to play Monopoly along with his mother as he assessments out totally different methods to win. Ashley mentioned she’s been open with him about why he needed to stay along with his grandmother, and he has accompanied her to courtroom and Narcotics Nameless conferences.

“I undoubtedly wouldn’t be the place I’m if I didn’t undergo this program,” Ashley mentioned. “I’ve zero doubts that I might be useless or in jail. And I’ve a profession now with advantages. I’ve a retirement plan and life insurance coverage. That’s stuff I by no means thought I might have.”

Alison Graham is The Secular Society Investigative Fellow at The Roanoke Instances.

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