Bibb County experiences a high rate of children placed in foster care and a high rate of removal of children from homes where they are neglected or abused. Often, removals are a result of parental or family related drug use or poor parenting skills.
According to Family Court Judge Craig Cargile, of Bibb County’s District Court there have been efforts made to prevent the high rate of removals and to establish programs to keep children and families together.
Judge Cargile recently announced the formation of Bibb County’s Family Wellness Court. The Family Wellness Court was officially established in December, 2019, although the first families are just now entering the program. The goal is to have more than 10 families in the program after a year. The program was established through a grant from the Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) through funding for problem solving courts.
Lauri Cothran of the Central Alabama Regional Child Advocacy Center told us that “her office has been requested to conduct more forensic interviews of potential child abuse victims in Bibb County over the past 5 consecutive years than any other county in her 5 county service area“. Her area is made up of the Fourth Judicial District, which includes Bibb, Hale, Perry, Dallas, and Wilcox counties.
Judge Cargile said “there is a significant need for this program in Bibb County to help keep children out of foster care and to help return foster children to their home. In a 5-year period from 9/30/13 to 9/30/18, the number of children in foster care in Bibb County increased 1,600 %. Bibb County currently has the fourth highest rate of removal of any county in Alabama and caretaker drug abuse is the primary cause in 70% of those cases (we were second a year ago). Bibb County sees reports of child abuse and neglect that are more than 2.5 times the State average”.
The goal of the Bibb County Family Wellness Court (FWC) is to provide a mechanism to help primary custodians live a drug-free life and assume the full responsibilities of parenting their children. This program provides early intervention and immediate treatment to parents who abuse substances and willingly commit to cooperate with the program. This program will provide heightened supervision of the Court and therapeutic intervention by the Family Wellness Court Coordinator working in conjunction with the DHR Social Worker, treatment service providers, and peer support systems.
The program has 4 treatment phases and the entire program lasts about a year. There are incentives and sanctions that include verbal praise, reduced supervision requirements, reduced restrictions, increased visitation, recognition in court, verbal admonishments, increased supervision requirements, phase demotion, jail sanctions, and termination.
Judge Cargile also indicated that the AOC grant will involve participation from the Department of Human Resources (DHR), Community Corrections, and mental health resources. The program will provide access to additional services for participants such as substance abuse, mental health and parenting classes. Parents can agree to enter the program voluntarily or the Judge may Order participation where appropriate after a child has been adjudicated dependent.