New Drug Court Planned

WRNI – Some child welfare advocates in Rhode Island are trying to take the conept of drug courts one step farther. They are making plans for a court that would focus drug exposed babies.

The court would follow the model of 'treatment with teeth" already in place in adult and juvenile drug courts. Participation would be voluntary, but parents who refuse to participate run a greater risk of losing their children.

Rhode Island has some of strictest standards in the country for reporting drug exposure in children. The Department of Children Youth and Families investigated 80 cases of infants born with traces of illegal drugs last year. About half were taken into state custody.

"The sterotype is that, by definition, if you are a drug using mother you are an inadequate mother, and that' not true," said Dr. Barry Lester, who runs the Infant Development Center affiliated with Bradley and Women and Infants Hospitals.

Lester works with the Department of Children Youth and Families on treatment plans for mothers who lose custody of their babies. He is also working with the Family Court on a new court that would oversee cases involving drug exposed babies. Mothers who lose custody of drug exposed babies would have to comply with court orders to regain custody.

Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah favors the new court, because he belives that drug courts improve recovery rates. He said that he hopes a family drug court would help keep families together.

"We're using our best efforts to bring about reunification. The bonding that takes place in the very early age between a child and a parent is very important and that's why we don't like to see the child removed as quickly as it is now, and that's why I'd like to see if we can keep the child with
the mother," said Jeremiah.

Hear Martha Bebinger's complete report.