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Focusing on Infants and Toddlers in Family Drug Treatment Court

Erica Yew Erica Yew, Judge, Santa Clara Superior Court (CA)

Summary: The author describes how their dependency drug treatment court leveraged partnerships and resources to obtain positive results for children and families in Santa Clara.

In October 2007, Santa Clara County Superior Court received a $6.3 million grant to open a dependency drug treatment court for parents and their infants and toddlers. Santa Clara County comprises 1.8 million citizens[1] from extraordinarily diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. The median household income is $90,747 and the county’s residents have the distinction of being the second most educated in the country.[2] With this backdrop, the court opened its doors to family wellness court (FWC) on March 14, 2008. The parents who were served in FWC were also residents of Santa Clara County, but their lives yielded different statistics.

Thanks to the federal grant requirements, the court collected a plethora of data regarding the parents and children served in FWC. Sixty-six percent of the parents in FWC had an annual income of less than $10,000. The federal poverty level for one parent living with one child is $14,570. Forty percent were former foster children themselves, 65% experienced chronic homelessness, 80% experienced some domestic violence in the past, 100% struggled with addiction and 100% of the infants and toddlers were either pos-tox at birth or drug exposed.

FWC was an extension of a dependency drug treatment court instituted by Judge Leonard Edwards in Santa Clara County 10 years prior. The court’s observation was that while treatment court was successful, the infants and toddlers born to parents in court were deprived of many services. In addition, many of the parents going through dependency court continued to have multiple subsequent pos-tox births. Judge Katherine Lucero vied for federal grant money to expand the court’s existing treatment court to specifically focus on parents with infants and toddlers. The purpose for this focus was threefold. First, the court wanted to extend services to the children over whom the court had jurisdiction. Second, more evidence-based teachings were available that demonstrated parents who were well-bonded to their children did better in treatment court, and finally the court wanted to slow the revolving door of parents re-entering the dependency system with subsequent—indeed serial—pos-tox deliveries.

Through $3.7 million in federal monies and a matching grant from First 5 of Santa Clara County[3], FWC was funded. Its focus was to serve parents who were addicted to methamphetamine[4] and other substances. Comprehensive services, along with early drug and mental health assessments and early engagement in treatment, were offered to parents through multiple partners. A list of services and partners is set forth at the end of this article. Through First 5, for the first time in the county’s history, 100% of the infants and toddlers—and their siblings under the age of six—were offered early assessments, in-home instruction, medical care, and other interventions that ensured these little ones were provided with the best possible start in life. These services are also listed at the end of this article.

Regarding the parent-child bonding and attachment, parents were offered residential treatment programs where they could live with their infants and toddlers, in-home consultation with visiting public health nurses, parent-child interactive therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dyadic child-parent therapy, connection with an early childhood specialist in court, parenting programs, mentor parent support, and support from specially trained child advocates among other services. Overarching these interventions was reinforcement of the parent-child bond and attachment in the courtroom through incentives, modeling and discussion.

FWC’s focus on the parent-child bond paid dividends for the court’s participants. A large percentage of the parents had prior child welfare involvement resulting in the termination of parental rights for previously removed children. Some parents had as many as four to eight children who were removed from their care either temporarily or permanently. Even these parents were able to achieve success in FWC. From 2008 to 2011, 290 parents and 350 children were served by the FWC team and its partners. Where parents in Santa Clara County’s dependency court in general achieved reunification 48% of the time, parents in FWC were able to reunify 75% of the time. This success was remarkable since FWC parents were operating under fast track requirements. Most importantly, 100% of the children in FWC received early assessment and holistic interventions. Moreover, from the time FWC opened its doors in 2008 through 2013, there has been only one subsequent pos-tox birth[5]. The lesson is that parents—no matter what their demographic background—love their children and when provided with support and authentic caring, parents will strive to succeed to make a better life for themselves and their children.


[1] The county’s population was estimated to be 1,837,504 in 2012 based upon the 2010 U.S. Census.

[2] The New York Times reported on May 30, 2012, that the San Jose metropolitan area ranks second in the country for the most college-educated residents. 

[3] In 1998, Californians voted to dedicate tobacco taxes to local health and education programs for young children ages 0-5 which created First 5 commissions in each county across the state.

[4] In Santa Clara County the drug of choice is methamphetamine where preference is around 64 to 67%.

[5] This pos-tox birth was to a mother who was pregnant upon entry into FWC. No successful graduate of FWC has had a subsequent pos-tox birth since completing the treatment court program. 

Services and Resources for Parents in FWC [Return to article]

  • A therapeutic court environment with an emphasis on establishing a therapeutic alliance between the parent and the team
  • Regular and frequent court reviews
  • Integration of services with the exchange of regular written reports from service providers and comprehensive staffing
  • Early connection to government financial aid such as TANF and food stamps
  • Case management by the court, DFCS, the Department of Alcohol and Drugs Services (DADS), and/or the County Department of Mental Health (MH)
  • Connection to SSI related services
  • Legal representation
  • Early drug and alcohol assessments
  • Residential inpatient treatment for men and women, the latter includes the opportunity for mothers to live with their children in inpatient settings
  • Transitional Housing Units for men and women, either with or without their children
  • Outpatient drug services
  • Connection to twelve-step meetings and generally accepted alternatives
  • Connection to same-gender sponsors
  • Connection to shelters and housing
  • Some assistance with rent and deposits through DFCS and community partners
  • Connection with resources for furniture and household items
  • Connection with Victim Witness Assistance for funds related to relocation, safety, and therapy
  • Connection with community agencies that provide financial assistance for PG&E
  • Mentor parent support
  • Domestic violence advocacy and services
  • Access to domestic violence classes and support groups
  • Assistance with obtaining restraining orders
  • Transportation assistance such as bus passes and bus tokens, as well as bicycles and car seats
  • Limited funding to assist with barriers such as funding for recovery books, obtaining parents’ birth certificates
  • Linkages to employment services
  • Coordination with criminal court partners
  • Coordination of drug testing requirements
  • Assistance with criminal fine conversions to help people address debts
  • Budget information and connection to budgeting classes
  • Criminal records clearance services to enhance people’s employability
  • Therapeutic services such as individual counseling, groups, dyadic therapy, parent child interactive therapy, family counseling, WRAP services
  • Psychiatric evaluations
  • Medication evaluations and connection to psychiatric medicines
  • Family planning education
  • Home visitation services
  • Consultations with public health nurses
  • Comprehensive developmental and behavioral screening, assessments and interventions for all children
  • Court appointed child advocates forFWCchildren and their parents
  • Linkage to health care coverage and primary care physicians
  • Connection to dental care through charitable organizations
  • Connection to vision care through charitable organizations
  • Coordination with agencies funded by San Andreas Regional Center (SARC) where applicable
  • Access to an array of basic and specialized parenting classes
  • GED assistance
  • Language assistance
  • Information about nutrition and self-care
  • Information about stress management
  • Coaching for time management
  • Linkage for tattoo removal
  • Connection to community resources for food, clothing, hygiene products, shoes, and other items
  • Provision of tangibles such as diapers, wipes, umbrella strollers, children’s clothing and shoes children’s books, developmental toys and games
  • Family Team Meetings and Team Decision Meetings facilitated by DFCS

Services and Resources for Infants and Toddlers in FWC [Return to article]

  • ASQ/ASQ-SE (Social Emotional)screening
  • Level 1 assessment (based on concerns identified by ASQ/ASQ-SE)
  • Level 2 assessment (based on concerns identified by ASQ/ASQ-SE)
  • MDT(Multi-Disciplinary Team)meeting to discuss results, make recommendations
  • Referrals for community interventions as indicated
  • Parenting curriculums that include children and parent/child interactions
  • Home visitation
  • Supervised visitation
  • Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Touchpoints
  • Court appointed special advocates in a new role
  • First 5/Gardner Specialist on theFWCcourt team
  • Reinforcement in the courtroom through incentives, modeling, appreciating
  • Coordinate services with MH team member
  • Therapeutic services that include:
    • Parent-Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT)
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
    • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT)
    • Trauma-Focused Play Therapy
    • Dyadic (Child/Parent Psychotherapy)
    • The Incredible Years –program for reducing childhood aggression and behavior problems and increasing social competence at home and at school


Author Biography: 

Judge Yew helped to found Family Wellness Court, a division of the Santa Clara Superior Court in California, and presided over this court from 2007 to 2011.


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