KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You might have heard about drug court, but have you heard about family drug court?
It’s a program here and in many cities across the country that allows parents who’ve had children removed from their home the chance to get their kids back, and get clean, without facing criminal charges.
FOX4 spoke with one mom who came out on the other side in a story you’ll only find here.
Julia Foster said back in 2015 she found herself in a dark place. The KC mother of three was addicted to meth. She said Jackson County took her kids out of her care and gave her the chance at a new life.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to start,” Foster said. “I didn’t know how to get them back, so it was devastating.”
Foster said four years ago her mother made a phone call that changed everything.
“My mom actually called DFS on me because she knew I was getting a little out of hand,” Foster said. “She knew I was an addict, but she didn’t want to admit it.”
The mother of three was struggling in her meth addiction. Instead of charging her with a crime, Jackson County gave her the chance to go to family drug court.
“I was like, this is a good opportunity. I wanted my kids and all that. I wanted to be clean,” Foster said. “I wanted to be the good mom that I was meant to be, so when they gave me the opportunity I was all for it.”
Judge Dale Youngs with Jackson County’s 16th Circuit Family Court said Foster’s struggle is one they see often. Methamphetamine addictions make up about half of the cases they see come through the court’s doors.
“Substance abuse is usually only part of the problem that people in our drug court have,” Youngs said. “They also have issues related to poverty. They have sometimes mental health issues that go along with the other substance and other related issues that they have, so its kind of a total package.”
“So when you see somebody who actually has progressed through the program to the point where they’ve graduated from the program — it’s a great achievement.”
Family court is an accountability system that helps parents and guardians get clean. Parents are given steps and a plan to get sober and get their kids back.
Youngs said last year 100 people went through the program, and about half of them graduated.
“If you can — every two people, if one is going to graduate successfully, we think that’s a pretty good number and they’re worth working on,” Youngs said.
“What we do is we try to put them in a position of being able to do their best. Give them the tools that they can use to be successful, and let them work with those tools the way they can,” he continued.
Youngs said they combat issues like poverty and mental health by walking through solutions with parents and setting them up to succeed.
“If there are housing issues, we provide those services,” Youngs said. “If they need a bus pass because they can’t afford to ride the bus, we provide those.”
“So all those kinds of wrap-around services that we provide folks are designed to get them through those hard times and put them in a position where they can graduate, as almost half of our participants do.”
Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASAs, work with the children while parents go through the process. It helps meet the kids’ needs while parents focus on their recovery. Linda Vargas is a CASA that works specifically alongside family drug court.
“With these parents they have a serious problem that they’re dealing with if there’s an addiction there,” Vargas said. “They’re brave to be able to step up and say I have a problem, and accept this help, and to realize that they have children involved that they need to get better for and be there. I think that’s pretty great.”
Foster graduated from family drug court in 2017, but got her kids back before she graduated by achieving the goals set before her.
She said she’s living proof that there is life after meth addiction.
“I knew that’s who I was supposed to be, and I knew I had just fallen off for a while, and I just needed that push to be the mom that I’m supposed to be,” Foster said.
Only around 3% of people who graduate from family drug court fall back into addiction.
Foster said she wanted to share her story to help other parents who are struggling. Now she takes care of her kids, has a full-time job, and just got her own house.
She said she loves being the best mom she can.
If you would like more information on how you can become a CASA and help foster children right here in the metro, you can visit its website to find out how to sign up for their next training.