Walworth County Judicial Center in Elkhorn, Wis.


Last fall, Carlo Nevicosi of the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services said county officials wanted to get more aggressive about applying for grants.

The agency’s deputy director said they had focused on state grants but had not applied for larger federal options.

They saw a grant offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as a long shot. But they assembled their “compelling” data and submitted an application anyway.

In late April, the good news arrived, Nevicosi said.

The department received a $1.8 million grant to expand family drug treatment court, which was created in fall 2017. The money also will pay for a coordinator to handle the program and a clinical person to offer more family-based services.

From 2010 through September 2018, the county’s child protective services workers “removed 242 children from their home and placed in alternate care due to parental substance abuse,” according to the county’s grant application.

Those children spent 51,541 days in out-of-home care.

Only 55% of the cases ended with children getting reunited with parents.

The application states family drug court is funded with tax levy dollars and has no supplemental support.

The goal is to reduce the number of cases with terminated parental rights by 10% by May 30, 2024.

Increasing services comes with the goal of reducing out-of-home placements, said Alison Mansky, who works in the department’s children’s division.

Child welfare cases that involve someone who could benefit from addiction treatment are screened to see if they are high risk and high need.

The program involves the court, therapists and social workers. Services are offered for other family members, too: A child could need trauma therapy, and parents could get group and/or individual therapy specialized to their needs.

“It’s very individualized, but we are serving the whole family,” Mansky said.

Nevicosi said participants have to be officially involved in the child welfare system, meaning there is a substantiated finding of maltreatment.

But family court doesn’t have jail-time sanctions to ensure compliance in the program, as is the case with other treatment courts. Nevicosi said the benefits, such as getting a child home sooner, might be more tangible, however.

“Our folks, our workers handling these cases have to be really creative in keeping families engaged,” he said.

Family drug court currently has 22 participants. The plan is to expand to 40 in the first year and serve 200 participants over five years.

Some of the county’s other treatment court programs have struggled with enrollment because of debates over eligibility criteria, which could affect future grants.

Enrollment in family drug court started out slow. Nevicosi said it was a new program that couldn’t compel entry like other treatment courts can with criminal defendants.

“You really have to make a case,” he said. “Make a case that it’s a good thing for them.”

That’s where a coordinator can fit in—someone who Nevicosi said can work with child protective services and sell family drug court to potential participants early on in their home.

Applying for this grant coincided with Judge David Reddy rotating to preside over family drug court.

The program just had its first graduation, Reddy said. It’s a moment where the transformation of participants who are changing their lives is crystalized.

Reddy has seen many graduations while overseeing other treatment courts. He often repeats himself when he calls them “very rewarding.”

“I am really excited about the direction that we’re going in,” he said.

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