On June 27, 2019, four women graduated from the Jackson County Family Wellness Court (FWC). The graduates completed a year-long, four-phase program of their own volition, with one graduate being granted custody of her daughter. The participants in the program, some referred by DHR, enter willingly and participate in the many resources and classes available.

The FWC was established in November of 2016 by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John H. Graham and Jackson County Drug Court Coordinator Wendy Trott. Later, the FWC was turned over to Jackson County District Court Judge Don Word and Family Wellness Court Coordinator Erica Kirkland-Weeks.
The FWC mission states, “Our vision is to create a safe environment for the reunification of children with drug-free homes that are free from drug use, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, mental abuse, neglect, criminal behavior and harmful reliance on social service programs. Family Wellness Court helps parents recover from alcohol and drug abuse, teaches crime-free living and promotes recovery from co-occurring disorders.”
After uniting community agents, DHR, medical agencies, law enforcement agencies, administrators performed a walk-through and assessed any gaps in care or rehabilitation throughout the process from start to finish to implement a plan of safe care. From the beginning, when initial contact with a community agency is made, the child is placed in protective custody, and throughout the legal process, the FWC offers support and knowledge for the parents and children. The organizers also include services to pregnant women.
Before, if a mother tested positive for illegal drugs, the baby would have been removed from her custody while she underwent the legal process and treatment. Now, there is a way in which the child can stay with the mother while she undergoes sobriety, counseling and education, promoting nurturing and bonding for the mother and child. A strong bond in the beginning, for a child, means they will be more likely to grow up and become resilient, happy and independent. It also means the likelihood this child will experience, good, normal behaviors and experiences is greatly increased.
Kirkland-Weeks stated, “The treatment facilities have existed for many years, but there was not an agency prior to Family Wellness Court that took in pregnant women. FWC is a tool to get these women what they need. We can pay for their assessment. We can pay for their admission fee. We can help them with the referral process. Common sense will tell you if you can get a mother who’s three months pregnant and enters treatment, the baby is better off than if the mother continues to use substances all through the pregnancy. The free site is focused solely on pregnant women or mothers with children under ages of three. The big drive is for communities to come together. For the medical, substance abuse prevention and treatment, and the legal communities to prevent prenatal substance exposure or reduce amount of time of exposure for the infant.”
Through funds from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an official space was made for Jackson County’s first FWC. During their recent open house, commemorating their new space, Judge Don Word explained the purpose of the FWC, “We take these families who don’t know how to take care of themselves or others. They were never taught. They never learned what normal was. We take them, and we show them how to live a clean life, how to take care of their families, how to be there for their children, how to be responsible, how to be sober. We take them, and we break the cycle.”
A parent can enroll in the FWC program and have access to all the programs available for a sustainable future of growth, nurturing, contribution and accountability while working in conjunction with the court systems and DHR.
“After all the goals are achieved, participants graduate. Each phase has appropriate goals, expectations and requirements for advancement. Development of parenting skills; detoxification and abstinence; cognitive behavioral therapy; improved interaction with children, leading to visitation and eventual custody; become and remain drug-free; attend Family Wellness Court every other week; complete treatment assessment and progress in treatment; complete relapse and prevention plan; participate in random, frequent drug testing; attend a minimum of two self-help meetings per week; obtain a sponsor/accountability partner; pay fees, costs, fines, restitution as required; development of recovery tools; development of education and vocational goals; begin other services such as domestic violence counseling, individual therapy, anger management; begin family and/or couples counseling; become job-ready; become self-sufficient; continued progress in treatment; maintain safe and stable housing; completion of all court conditions.” (FWC)
During the graduation, each participant was called up separately and there announced their clean date, or the date of their last clean drug test, to applause.
Judge Word, standing in front with them, then asked questions. “How are you doing? What have you been up to,” humanizing each graduate to the room at-large, helping them exhibit an ease and familiarity in the face of such authority. The graduates could not have finished without completing the program: earning a high school diploma or GED, obtaining a driver’s license, registering to vote, submitting a clean urinalysis for a minimum of nine months, be recommended for graduation, and be ready to have their children back at home with them, having met all requirements and criteria.
As each graduate accepted their certificates and posed for the cameras, each advocate from various local agencies and the FWC watched and applauded.
Judge Word stated, “It’s the best thing I do.”

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