Sunday, November 25, 2001


New family drug
court targets abuse sources

Officials hope to use addiction
treatment to rehabilitate clients

Rise in drug abuse, economic strains push
isle child abuse levels to highs

Child sex abuse victim rebuilds her life

By Helen Altonn

Oahu's Family Court is establishing a drug court, similar to a Circuit Court program, aimed at rehabilitating family clients with substance abuse problems.

"The drug problem is horrendous," said Family Court Senior Judge Frances Wong, adding that she could not believe how child abuse and neglect cases have ballooned in one year.

"What we're hoping to do is take the traditional work we do with the child abuse and neglect cases and see if we can somehow help families better by taking some of the things we've learned from the adult drug court," she said.

Wong presided over the adult drug court in the criminal division before her current assignment to Family Court to handle its drug program.

She said her experience with the adult drug court "taught me a few things about the need for a certain amount of coercion in dealing with certain chemically addicted people, and we're going to try some of those ideas out."

Marcy Brown, experienced in the alcohol and substance abuse field in Hawaii and Washington, is the program director.

Staffing hopefully will be completed within a few months, Wong said. "We have a lot more bridges to build, a lot more people and agencies to talk to before planning goes into high gear."

She cited two major problems in the substance abuse area: the addiction itself and treatment resources.

Even for motivated families, she said, resources are inadequate, there is a long wait for them and managed health care limits the treatment period.

Experts also say relapse is part of recovery from the addition, Wong noted. "How do we deal with that as a court system?" One way, she said, is possibly using graduated sanctions so "it's not a knee jerk, 'Oh, you relapsed. We're taking your kid or you're going to jail.'"

Instead, a sanction might be imposed to motivate the person to stay clean and sober, she said. It could be a requirement to go to court weekly for reviews, or, ultimately, to start criminal contempt proceedings, she said.

"We're hoping with use of graduated sanctions, with the court working much closer with service providers, that between the carrot and stick process we can get families reunited faster. That's our absolute goal."

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