Increasing Family Reuniﬁcation for
Substance-Abusing Mothers and Their Children:
Comparing Two Drug Court Interventions
By Gayle A. Dakof, Judge Jeri B. Cohen, and Eliette Duarte
This study provides a quasi-experimental test of 80 consecutive enrollments in
the Miami-Dade (Florida) Dependency Drug Court in order to examine the impact of
a family-based and gender speciﬁc intervention, Engaging Moms Program (EMP), on
drug court graduation and family reuniﬁcation. We compared EMP with case man-
agement services (CMS). Results indicated that 72% of mothers in the EMP gradu-
ated from drug court, and 70% were reuniﬁed with their children. In contrast, 38%
of mothers receiving CMS graduated from drug court, and 40% were reunited
with their children. EMP, then, appears to be a promising family drug court
Parental substance abuse has been associated with numerous negative consequences
for children, including recurring maltreatment (Walsh, MacMillan, & Jamieson, 2003;
Gayle A. Dakof, Ph.D, is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Miami Miller School of
Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Public Heath, Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent
Drug Abuse. Dr Dakof specializes in the development and testing of family-based treatment models directed
toward preventing and treating adolescent substance abuse and delinquency and child maltreatment.
Judge Jeri B. Cohen, J.D., has been a Circuit Court Judge for the State of Florida Eleventh Judicial
Circuit for over ten years. In 1999, Judge Cohen founded the Miami-Dade Dependency Drug Court; she also
initiated the Miami-Dade County Recidivism Project in DUI court.
Eliette Duarte, M.S., has worked with the Miami-Dade Dependency Drug Court since its founding
in 1999, and is currently the dependency drug court coordinator. She trains and supervises drug court
specialists, serves as team liaison, and is responsible for drug court quality control procedures.
Authors’ Note: Completion of this research was supported by the State of Florida Department of
Children and Families and State of Florida Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court. The authors thank Deborah
Robinson, Sharon Abrams, and Paul Indelicato for facilitating this research. We also thank Hua Li for help
in data analysis.
Juvenile and Family Court Journal 60, no. 4 (Fall) 11
© 2009 National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
Wolock & Magura, 1996; Wolock, Sherman, Feldman, & Metzger, 2001); long stays in
foster care (Dore, Doris, & Wright, 1995; Zuravian & DePanﬁlis, 1997) and low rates of
family reuniﬁcation (U.S. General Accounting Ofﬁce, 2003); economic deprivation,
instability in the home, and poor childrearing practices (Dishion, Patterson, & Reid,
1988; Magura & Laudet, 1996; Mayes & Bornstein, 1996; Wills, Schreibman, Benson, &
Vaccaro, 1994); exposure to domestic violence (VanDeMark et al., 2005); and impaired
physical and behavioral development and mental health and substance use disorders (e.g.,
Cohen & Brook, 1987; Conners et al., 2004; Luthar, Cushing, Merikangas, & Roun-
saville, 1998; Singer et al., 2002). Not surprisingly, large numbers of child maltreatment
cases involve drug-using parents (Semidei, Radel, & Nolan, 2001; Wolock et al., 2001;
Young, Gardner, & Dennis, 1998), many of whom continue using drugs even while under
court supervision (Murphy et al., 1991).
Federal child welfare laws, most notably the Adoption and Safe Families Act
(ASFA) of 1997, and state statutes implementing those and other changes have dramati-
cally changed the operation of juvenile/family courts. Courts, for example, have been
required to take a more active role in developing service plans for families and in ensuring
that each child is placed in a permanent and stable home (Hardin, 1996; Harrell &
Goodman, 1999). During the reuniﬁcation process, parents are court-ordered to complete
various programs designed to address the problems that brought the child to the
attention of state authorities. If parents successfully complete the programs, their chil-
dren may be returned to them. If not, and reuniﬁcation is not possible, courts must
continue permanency planning efforts for the child, which may include termination of
parental rights to free the child for adoption. ASFA also shortened the time for the
permanency determination from 18 months to 12 months and, as a result, the perma-
nency planning hearing must be held within 12 months after the ﬁnding of dependency.
The demands ASFA placed on child welfare systems and juvenile/family courts,
combined with the growing numbers of substance-abusing parents involved in child
welfare proceedings, have strained the systems’ ability to successfully resolve cases in the
expeditious manner required by law. Acknowledging the systemic changes, Magura and
Laudet (1996) concluded that “a paradigmatic shift is taking place whereby the child
welfare ﬁeld is recognizing the need to deal with substance abuse as it relates to issues of
family dynamics and early childhood interventions” (p. 211). Many courts have looked at
the promising results from criminal drug courts (Belenko, 2001), and have turned to
dependency drug courts as the answer (Harrell & Goodman, 1999; Semidei et al., 2001).
As a result, dependency drug courts have multiplied.
Drug courts, with their emphasis on recovery and personal transformation in lieu of
punishment, embody the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence (Belenko, 1998;
Goldkamp & Weiland, 1993; Wexler & Winick, 1991). A court that adheres to those
principles uses the social sciences to guide judicial programs and decisions designed to
rehabilitate the participant. For example, the core elements of drug courts include
comprehensive assessment of service needs, regular use of drug testing, linking the
participant to services, and a non-adversarial relationship between the parties.
As of June 2009, there were over 250 dependency drug courts operating in the
United States (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2009). Although there is signiﬁcant enthu-
12 | JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JOURNAL / Fall 2009
siasm for dependency drug courts (Edwards & Ray, 2005), there have been few investi-
gations of their effectiveness (Belenko, 2001; Green, Furrer, Worcel, Burrus, & Finigan,
2009). A small number of evaluations indicate that the dependency drug court has
promise (Boles, Young, Moore, & DiPirro-Beard, 2007; Green, Furrer, Worcel, Burrus, &
Finigan, 2007; Haack, Alemi, Nemes, & Cohen, 2004) even though there are wide
variations between drug courts (Green et al., 2009). As a result, the verdict is still out
about the general effectiveness of dependency drug courts and the components of effective
drug courts in particular.
Family/dependency drug courts were established to assist courts and child welfare
agencies in their efforts to help parents overcome their drug dependency so they can
provide a healthy and safe environment for their children and avoid losing their parental
rights. Each family/dependency court has unique features, but most share basic compo-
nents. For example, to graduate, participants must have successfully completed substance
abuse treatment; have a speciﬁed period of continuous abstinence; show evidence of a safe
and stable living situation; spend a substantial period adequately performing the parent
role; and have a life plan in place (e.g., employment, education, vocational training;
Cooper & Bartlett, 1998).
Moreover, most family/dependency drug courts employ court caseworkers who
provide case management services to the participants, including referrals to treatment
and other court-ordered services, developing a recovery service plan, and monitoring and
reporting clients’ ongoing progress to the court. Although the inﬂuential role of the drug
court judge and substance abuse treatment program to positive outcomes has been noted
(Edwards & Ray, 2005; NADCP, 1997), little attention has been focused on intervention
models, drug court caseworkers, and the quality of their work.
One intervention program, the Engaging Moms Program (EMP), was initially
conceived as a brief, family-oriented intervention aimed at facilitating treatment for
mothers with substance-exposed infants. An initial study of the approach (Dakof et al.,
2003) indicated that it successfully facilitated the entry and retention of mothers who
were abusing drugs but not seeking drug treatment. For example, 88% of mothers
randomly assigned to EMP enrolled in drug treatment programs as compared to 46% of
mothers assigned to the usual community services. Further, 67% of mothers in EMP
remained in treatment for at least four weeks as compared to a 38% retention rate among
the control group of mothers. Based on these ﬁndings and the interest they generated
among child advocates in Miami, in 2001 the EMP was expanded in scope and duration
and adapted for use in the dependency drug court in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in
Miami-Dade County, Florida. Up until then, the Court had been using a standard
recommended intervention protocol that relied on extensive judicial oversight and
standard court-based case management services (Cooper & Bartlett, 1998; Harrell &
Goodman, 1999; Monchick, Scheyett, & Pfeifer, 2006; NADCP, 1997).
The aim of this study was to examine the effectiveness of the EMP when compared
to standard family/dependency drug court case management services (CMS). It was
hypothesized that signiﬁcantly more mothers involved in EMP, as compared to mothers
receiving CMS, would: (a) graduate from the family/dependency drug court; and (b) be
reuniﬁed with their children.
Dakof et al. / INCREASING FAMILY REUNIFICATION | 13
Design and Procedures
Once the Dependency Drug Court decided to adopt EMP to replace standard case
management, independent of any research goals, we took the opportunity to analyze
extant court record data on child welfare outcomes on mothers enrolled in drug court
prior to and then after the programmatic change. This study is, as a result, a natural
experiment of 80 consecutive admissions into dependency drug court. All women who
were enrolled in drug court during the target two years were included in the analysis.
Enrollment covered a two-year period, and follow-up was conducted 15 months after a
mother’s entry into drug court. The ﬁrst phase was the 12-month Case Management
Phase, which consisted of dependency drug court-based caseworkers delivering a standard
case management model, (N=37), and the second 12-month period, the Engaging
Moms Phase, consisted of dependency drug court-based caseworkers delivering the
alternative EMP model (N=43). After obtaining approval from the Institutional Review
Board, data for the study was gathered from extant court records by court personnel who
then provided the ﬁrst author a de-identiﬁed, completely anonymous database.
Mothers in both phases had the same judge and were expected to follow the same
basic dependency drug court requirements: i.e., completing drug treatment and remain-
ing drug free; completing parenting classes and demonstrating adequate parenting skills;
participating in educational/vocational training, domestic violence, or other counseling
as ordered by the judge; obtaining adequate and stable housing; and being gainfully
employed or in school. There were no policy, legal, or structural changes during the
course of the study other than the implementation of the Engaging Moms Program.
The basic dependency drug court program that was provided to all mothers was
organized into four phases, and a mother progressed through the phases based on her level
of substance abuse treatment and compliance with court orders. For example, during the
ﬁrst month of dependency drug court, mothers were required to attend weekly drug court
hearings, and if reports to the court indicated that the mother was progressing well,
attendance at court hearings was typically reduced to twice monthly. During the second
phase of the program, which lasted three months, clients continued to attend twice
monthly hearings, but in the next three-month phase, attendance at hearings was reduced
to once a month. During the fourth and ﬁnal phase, which extended to graduation from
the drug court program, the mothers attended hearings every 6 to 12 weeks. The
multi-phased process included a collaborative team approach that involved the court
caseworkers, child welfare workers, treatment providers, parent educators, and other
social and health care service providers as needed. Drug court caseworkers had weekly
contact with their clients, either in person or by telephone through phase 2, then
bi-weekly in phase 3, and monthly in phase 4. Workers were available more frequently
on an as-needed basis. The caseload for drug court caseworkers was between 10-15 active
14 | JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JOURNAL / Fall 2009
cases. The only difference between the CMS and EMP groups was the working relation-
ship between the drug court caseworker and the mothers; all other aspects of the
programs, including overall requirements, phases, and sanctions and rewards, were
exactly the same.
Drug Court Caseworkers. Seven women, all with Masters Degrees in counseling or
social work (four White Non-Hispanic and three Hispanic), delivered the Case Manage-
ment Services program. Five of the seven (two White Non-Hispanic and three Hispanic)
then delivered the Engaging Moms Intervention. Overall, the CMS caseworkers had an
average of 5.86 years of experience in the ﬁeld before they engaged in delivering services
and the EMP caseworkers had 5.8 years of prior experience. The caseworkers were trained
by experts in court case management and EMP before delivering the interventions, and
they participated in one booster training each year. All caseworkers received weekly
supervision from the drug court coordinator.
Case Management Services (CMS) provided by the court was consistent with standard
dependency/family drug court models (e.g., Boles et al., 2007), and provided ﬁve key case
management functions: assessment, planning, linkage, monitoring, and advocacy (Mon-
chick et al., 2006). The overall objective was to assess needs, engage in collaborative
intervention planning, provide referral to suitable drug abuse treatment and other
services, coordinate the system of care providing services to the mother, closely supervise
and monitor compliance with court orders, and advocate for the mother with service
providers. Case managers served as liaisons between the court, substance abuse treatment
providers, child welfare, and the client. The case manager was responsible for making
referrals to treatment and other court-ordered services, developing a recovery service plan,
monitoring and reporting clients’ ongoing progress to the court, reducing any barriers to
the delivery of treatment and other services, and providing emotional and practical
support to the mother.
Engaging Moms Program (EMP) was adapted for use in a family drug court context. It
is a gender-speciﬁc and family-based intervention. EMP was designed to help mothers
succeed in drug court by helping them comply with all court orders, including attending
substance abuse and other intervention programs (e.g., domestic violence counseling,
parenting classes, etc.), attending court sessions, remaining drug free, and demonstrating
the capacity to parent their children. EMP caseworkers conducted individual and conjoint
sessions with the mother and her family, focusing on six core areas of change: (1) motivation
and commitment to succeed in drug court and to change her life; (2) the emotional
attachment between the mother and her children; (3) relationships between the mother and
her family of origin; (4) parenting skills; (5) mother’s romantic relationships; and (6)
emotional regulation, problem solving, and communication skills. The EMP theory of
change believes that change in the six core areas is essential if the drug-using mother is to
achieve sobriety and be able to adequately care for her children.
EMP caseworkers facilitate change in the six core areas by conducting a series of
integrated individual and family sessions (e.g., individual sessions with mother, indi-
vidual sessions with family/partner, family and couple sessions, etc.). The intervention is
organized in three stages: Stage 1: Alliance and Motivation; Stage 2: Behavioral Change;
and Stage 3: Launch to an Independent Life.
Dakof et al. / INCREASING FAMILY REUNIFICATION | 15
In Stage 1, the caseworker focuses on two goals: building a strong therapeutic alliance
with the mother and her family and enhancing the mother’s motivation, as well as her
family’s motivation to change. EMP caseworkers provide total support to both the mother
and her family. They empower and validate, highlight strengths and competence, build
conﬁdence in the program, and are very compassionate, loving, and nurturing. To enhance
motivation, the EMP caseworker highlights the pain, guilt, and shame that the mother and
her family have experienced, and the high stakes involved (e.g., losing a child to the child
welfare system) while simultaneously creating positive expectations and hope.
Stage 2 is focused on behavioral change in both the mother and her family/spouse.
EMP has several goals for this stage. First, caseworkers enhance the emotional attachment
between the mother and her children by working individually with the mother to help
her explore her maternal role. There are also sessions between the mother and her children
designed to enhance her commitment to her children. Equally important, caseworkers
work to enhance the attachment between the mother and her family of origin and/or
spouse by helping the family restrain negativity and offer practical and emotional support
to the mother. Considerable attention is devoted to repairing the mother’s relationship
with her family which frequently has been damaged by past hurts, betrayals, and
resentments. Romantic relationships, typically with men, have often been a source of pain
and distress for many of the mothers involved in the child welfare system. The EMP
program addresses those relationships by helping the mother conduct a relationship life
review, including examining tensions between having a relationship and being a mother.
The caseworkers help the mother examine the relationship choices she has made, and
continues to make, teaching her how to make better decisions for herself and her children.
EMP caseworkers also help the mother deal with slips, mistakes, setbacks, and relapses in
a non-punitive and therapeutic manner (i.e., forward looking). Finally, in Stage 2, EMP
caseworkers help facilitate the mother’s relationship with court personnel (judge, child
welfare workers, and attorneys) and treatment or other service providers. The EMP
caseworker conducts “shuttle diplomacy” between the mother and service providers to
prevent and resolve problems and to ensure that the mother is taking full advantage of
the provided services. Similarly, the caseworkers facilitate therapeutic jurisprudence
in the courtroom by preparing mothers for court appearances and advocating for her
before the judge and at the weekly drug court case reviews.
In Stage 3, the ﬁnal launching phase, the EMP caseworker helps the mother prepare
for independence by developing a practical and workable routine for everyday life;
addressing how the mother will balance self care, children and work; outlining a plan for
dealing with common emergencies with children and families; developing a detailed
relapse prevention plan; and addressing how the mother will deal with potential prob-
lems, mistakes, and setbacks.
Data for this study were extracted by drug court personnel from extant family drug
court records on 80 women enrolled in the Miami Dependency Drug Court, and a
de-identiﬁed dataset was provided for data analysis.
16 | JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JOURNAL / Fall 2009
Participant characteristics. Information on the following characteristics was collected:
age; race/ethnicity (Black non-Hispanic, White non-Hispanic, Hispanic, other); number
of children; educational attainment (less than high school, completed high school, more
than high school); public assistance status; marital status (never married currently
married or partnered, divorced, separated, or widowed); drug of choice (cocaine, mari-
juana, alcohol, polydrug); age at ﬁrst drug use; age at birth of ﬁrst child; lifetime arrests;
lifetime physical abuse; and lifetime sexual abuse.
Graduation from family drug court and reuniﬁcation with children. Drug court docu-
ments were reviewed to determine whether the mother graduated from the drug court
and was reuniﬁed with any of her children. Decisions regarding graduation and reuniﬁ-
cation are made by the drug court judge, and hence are subject to the ordinary biases
operating in all judicial decision making. The dependency drug court team, consisting of
the CMS or EMP caseworker, child welfare workers, substance abuse treatment providers,
and others, makes recommendations to the judge about graduation and reuniﬁcation. The
judge, in reviewing the mother’s history and progress, makes the ﬁnal decision whether
a mother should or should not graduate from the drug court program. Child welfare
outcomes were categorized into one of three possible categories: (1) reuniﬁcation, (2)
voluntary surrender, or (3) termination of parental rights.
Data extracted from administrative court records (See Table 1) indicate that
mothers involved in Dependency Drug Court were primarily Black or Hispanic,
in their 30s, low income, and with little education. On average, they had
approximately three children and were 21 at the birth of their ﬁrst child. The majority
were unmarried. Many of the mothers had a history of trauma as a consequence of
being a victim of physical and/or sexual abuse and/or being arrested. In most cases, the
drug of choice was cocaine or crack. The information suggests that the women in the
program had limited resources and considerable challenges, which is similar to par-
ticipants in other studies examining substance-abusing and child welfare-involved
parents (e.g., Dawson & Berry, 2002; Maluccio & Ainsworth, 2003; Walsh et al.,
To determine whether the CMS and EMP groups were equivalent at baseline,
one-way analyses of variance (ANOVA) were conducted for the continuous variables of
age, number of children, age at ﬁrst drug use, and age at birth of ﬁrst child. Chi-square
tests were used for the categorical variables of race/ethnicity, education, public assistance,
marital status, drug of choice, lifetime physical abuse, and lifetime sexual abuse. There
were no statistically signiﬁcant differences between the two groups on any of these
variables at baseline. Thus, even though the study was not a randomized design, the two
groups were equivalent at baseline on key demographic variables.
Dakof et al. / INCREASING FAMILY REUNIFICATION | 17
Dependency Drug Court Graduation and Family Reuniﬁcation Analyses
Hypothesis 1 predicted that mothers in the EMP would be signiﬁcantly more likely
to graduate from family drug court than mothers in the case management program. As
shown in Table 2, this hypothesis was supported (c2(1, N=80) =9.43, p=.002), with
72% of the mothers receiving EMP successfully graduating from dependency/family
drug court compared to 38% of the mothers receiving CMS.
Hypothesis 2 predicted that mothers in EMP would be signiﬁcantly more likely to
be reuniﬁed with their children 15 months after entry in the dependency drug court than
mothers participating in standard case management. As shown in Table 2, this hypoth-
esis was also supported (c2(2, N=80) =7.59, p=.022), with 70% of the mothers
Baseline Participant Characteristics for Each Engagement Group
Dependency Drug Court
Engaging Moms Services as Usual
n(%) / M (SD) n(%) / M (SD)
Black 26 (60) 20 (54)
Hispanic 12 (28) 10 (27)
White, non-Hispanic 3 (7) 6 (16)
Other 2 (5) 1 (3)
Number of Children 3.5 (1.9) 3.1 (1.9)
<High School 27 (63) 20 (54)
High School Graduate 13 (30) 13 (35)
>High School 3 (7) 4 (11)
On Public Assistance 34 (79) 33 (89)
Never Married 26 (61) 19 (52)
Married or with Partner 7 (16) 9 (24)
Divorced/Separated/Widowed 10 (23) 9 (24)
Drug of Choice
Cocaine/Crack 23 (53) 24 (65)
Marijuana 6 (14) 1 (3)
Polydrug (3 or more) 14 (33) 12 (32)
Age First Drug Use 18 (5.4) 19.6 (5.8)
Age First Baby Born 21 (5.9) 21.5 (6.0)
Lifetime Arrests 2.6 (3.5) 2.5 (4.1)
Lifetime Physical Abuse 19 (53) 16 (44)
Lifetime Sexual Abuse 13 (36) 10 (28)
18 | JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JOURNAL / Fall 2009
receiving EMP being reunited with their children 15 months after entry into drug court
compared to 40% of the mothers receiving CMS.
The results demonstrate that EMP has considerable promise in fostering reuniﬁ-
cation for substance-involved mothers enrolled in dependency drug court. Seventy-two
percent of the mothers graduated from drug court, and 70% were reuniﬁed with their
Drug court graduation rates for the Engaging Moms Program compare favorably
with drug court graduation rates generally, which range from 23% (Vito & Tewksbury,
1999) to 57% (Sechrest & Shicor, 2001), averaging about 47% (Belenko, 2001). The
15-month family reuniﬁcation rates of 70% compare favorably with family reuniﬁcation
rates among drug-using and child welfare-involved mothers which have historically been
under 25% (Choi & Ryan, 2006; Ryan, Marsh, Testa, & Louderman, 2006), and family
drug courts which range from 42% to 91% (Green et al., 2009).
Even though the results of this study suggest that EMP shows promise as a
family/dependency drug court intervention, the study has several major limitations and
should be considered only as a hypothesis-generating study and not a hypothesis-testing
study. First, it was a naturalistic study, taking advantage of a programmatic shift within
the dependency drug court and essentially examined whether the programmatic changes
(implementing EMP) showed better child welfare outcomes than standard drug court
case management practices. Thus, its non-randomized design contains serious threats to
internal validity. Also, the judge was not blind to the interventions by court caseworkers
which could possibly bias the outcomes toward EMP. It is possible that since the judge
was responsible for bringing EMP to the dependency drug court, and perhaps expected
Graduation from Family Drug Court and Family Reuniﬁcation
Dependency Drug Court
Engaging Moms Services as Usual
Drug Court Graduation
Graduate 31 (72) 14 (38)
Did not Graduate 12 (28) 23 (62)
Reuniﬁed 30 (70) 15 (40)
Voluntary Surrender 4 (9) 4 (11)
Filed for TPR 9 (21) 18 (49)
Dakof et al. / INCREASING FAMILY REUNIFICATION | 19
better outcomes, she may have been biased toward graduating mothers from drug court
and reunifying them with their children. It is also important to recognize that the judge
making the decisions examined in this study was also the founder of the dependency drug
court in Miami, so if there was any bias in favor of EMP, there would have also been a bias
toward the case management phase because the judge would want to demonstrate that
the dependency drug court could be successful. Although it is likely that there was some
judicial bias for successful results, it is important to recognize that a judge’s ﬁrst duty is
to protect the children, and it is highly unlikely that a judge would allow reuniﬁcation
if he or she thought the children would be at risk.
The data were limited to information contained in the court records, which pro-
hibited us from examining factors that might have inﬂuenced reuniﬁcation, such as
domestic violence, mental health disorders, housing, and related factors. Finally, there
were no measures of intervention integrity or quality of the clinical work. Although court
caseworkers received weekly supervision in the model they were implementing, we
cannot know if they were consistently adhering to the models. Also, it is important to
recognize that the ﬁve staff who delivered the EMP also delivered the standard case
management, and it is possible that they had better outcomes with EMP, not because of
the nature of the EMP intervention but simply because they were more experienced in
working with the drug court populations and procedures because EMP was implemented
after CMS. Nevertheless, there are very few studies examining permanency and family
reuniﬁcation in the context of family or dependency drug court, and despite its limita-
tions, this study is a ﬁrst step to examining how EMP may be well-suited for dependency
drug court settings.
Drug abuse among women with children is a serious social and public health
problem that not only damages the mothers, but also places their children at risk of
abuse, neglect, and myriad social, health, and behavioral problems. Moreover, mothers
involved in the child welfare system who have substance abuse problems are more likely
to have their parental rights terminated than non-drug-using, child welfare-involved
mothers (Marcenko, Kemp, & Larson, 2000). Thus, there is increasing urgency to develop
new ways of working with substance-abusing parents involved in the child welfare
system (Kerwin, 2005; Maluccio & Ainsworth, 2003; Marsh & Cao, 2005; Young et al.,
1998). Efforts to protect children by healing and strengthening their mothers is arguably
the best way to improve child outcomes, especially when considering results which
indicate that substance abuse interventions delivered to parents, even when not directly
targeting the children, have been shown to improve the psychosocial functioning of
children (Kelley & Fals-Stewart, 2002; Moos, Finney, & Cronkite, 1990).
The challenges faced by substance-abusing mothers involved in the child welfare
system are monumental, but the effort seems worthwhile when one considers the impact
of maternal success or failure on the developmental trajectory of their children. Results
from this and other studies (e.g., Marsh, Ryan, Choi, & Testa, 2006; Grella & Greenwell,
2004) suggest that mothers need comprehensive and intensive interventions to overcome
their addiction and other life problems. Thus, any intervention that facilitates recovery
and family reuniﬁcation must be further evaluated and replicated. Even though depen-
dency drug courts have an increasingly important role to play in combating these
20 | JUVENILE AND FAMILY COURT JOURNAL / Fall 2009
problems and promoting healthy families, there are few well-speciﬁed intervention
programs aimed at drug-abusing mothers suitable for use in these drug courts. The
results from this pilot study and other evaluations (Green et al., 2009) suggest that not
all dependency drug court models are equal, and it is imperative that we begin to discover
the key ingredients of effective dependency drug courts. The Engaging Moms Depen-
dency Drug Court Model has the potential to enhance a mother’s chances for reuniﬁca-
tion, consistent with ASFA timelines, despite the challenges of substance abuse, poverty,
mental health issues, and trauma. If the promising results presented here are replicated
in more highly controlled studies, the impact on an under-served population could be
considerable, and could promote a stronger and more effective partnership among the
judiciary, child welfare caseworkers, and treatment providers.
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