A new court program works to keep families together

MASON CITY, Iowa – The courtroom might not be a typical place to hold a family meeting, but a new family court system in Cerro Gordo County is encouraging some families to do just that.

The Family Treatment Court is a new program working to help parents struggling with substance abuse. Many families enrolled in the system are struggling to keep their family together, and some have already been contacted by the state, saying that their custody rights are being taken away from them.

Emily Johnson with Prairie Ridge Addiction in Mason City, is the coordinator of the program. She tells us, she believes that the work they do is crucial for the future of these families, and that she can’t imagine letting families fall apart without at least trying to help.

Johnson says the treatment team goes into court with the families to help them pinpoint things that are going well.  “We also talk as a family treatment team about what are some of the barriers they are experiencing, and how we can wrap around services for the individual to make them more successful.”

The main objective is to help the parent successfully make their way through recovery, while still making sure the needs of the children aren’t lost along the way.

As a local lawyer, Joel Yunek has seen his fair share of specialty court groups pop up in the county over the years. He tells us that many times these resources lose their steam, because of funding issues, but believes this team has the potential to last.

“I think anything you can do to get anybody in the same room, to talk about the same issue, especially for juveniles, is better to do sooner than later,” Yunek says, and “if judges are focusing on one thing, they do a better job, so it does make sense to do this.”

Johnson and rest of the professionals helping with the effort in Cerro Gordo County, got the idea after seeing success in other counties in Iowa. So far, nearly 500 families in the state have been helped through this service and roughly 76 percent of the children who were involved in the program were able to stay with their family.

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