The court program helped one couple to find a new direction in life.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- As summer began, some area graduates had parties or received gifts to celebrate their accomplishments, but for 36-year-old Youngstown resident Jane Smith, getting full custody of her daughters was enough.
Smith and her 48-year-old husband, John, graduated recently from Youngstown's Family Dependency Treatment Court and became the first alumni of the program, a last chance for substance-dependent parents to regain custody of their children. The Smith's names have been changed to protect the identities of the three children involved.
FDTC works to stabilize homes and reunite children with their parents instead of placing them in foster care.
"The state should not be raising children. I think children belong in families," said Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court.
As a program of the juvenile court, FDTC opened in October after the court's personnel were trained using funds from the National Drug Court Institute, said Donna McCollum, juvenile court magistrate.
The court operates at no extra cost to the county because court employees have added the responsibility to their workloads, McCollum said.
But FDTC is more effective than more common treatment programs because it addresses parents' addictions while considering the ways children are affected by such negative habits, Judge Dellick said.
Jane Smith is familiar with those habits. In 2001, she lost custody of her children after police caught her in a drug raid.
Life not forgotten
She has not forgotten the life she was living then, a life where she slept in abandoned buildings and embraced prostitution as a way to pay for her addiction to a buffet of drugs and alcohol.
"I see my past life around me all the time. It disgusts me now," Smith said. Self-motivation drove Jane and John, who also abused drugs, to become clean and sober in February and April 2004, respectively.
But Smith still wanted custody of her children, none of whom are John's, and her opportunity came in a meeting with representatives from the county Children Services Board during which the couple considered participation in FDTC.
To meet FDTC requirements, Smith underwent outpatient treatments at Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown, submitted to random drug tests, checked in weekly with the court, and attended a 12-step substance abuse recovery program. John maintained a similar regimen.
Combining their motivation with the support of the clinic and Family Service Agency, the Smiths successfully completed the FDTC program last week.
"We prayed for help, and we got the industrial strength package," John said.
That package allowed the couple to attain full custody of Smith's 5- and 15-year-old daughters. Smith also now has rights to unlimited contact with her 10-year-old son.
The Smiths' success is a model for other people in recovery, said Pam Nock, a therapy manager at the recovery clinic.
Judge Dellick expressed similar sentiments. "They really went against the odds and are commended for their hard work and dedication to this program and to their children," she said.
The Smiths want other parents who feel hopeless to know that achieving success requires both personal desire and the encouragement of the clinic and family agencies.
"It's like trying to do surgery on yourself," John said. "You can't do it."