Abstract: Integrated and Parallel Models: Exploring Participant Perceptions of Family Drug Court Case Proceedings (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

464P Integrated and Parallel Models: Exploring Participant Perceptions of Family Drug Court Case Proceedings

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Erik Wittrup, MSW, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Anna Maria Santiago, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background and Purpose: For the past two decades, family drug courts (FDC) continue to support parents involved in the child welfare system for substance abuse and child maltreatment. Although recent literature indicates that many of the 300 family drug courts (FDC) in the United States produce high completion rates, few have examined the potential benefits and barriers associated with different court structures. While each FDC program may operate differently, many FDCs employ an integrated model involving a single judge overseeing both the participant’s sobriety and their dependency case.  Less common is the parallel FDC involving different court staff at each court hearing. 

This paper helps to address this gap in literature by using the using the experiences of FDC participants to explore the potential benefits and barriers associated with the integrated and parallel FDC models.  

Methods: This study examines the FDC experiences of 53 participants over the course of program participation in two distinct programs. Located in a midwestern state, the more rural FDC program uses a parallel FDC model and includes parents involved in either child welfare cases or criminal cases. Alternatively, the urban program used an integrated model approach and only includes child welfare cases.

This study utilized data from FDC hearing observations, public domain child welfare court records, and semi-structured interviews with participants and FDC staff. Guided by Aker’s social structure and social learning model, observations focused on participant interactions with FDC staff and participants, and between participants and other participants. To follow participant progress between hearings, person profiles were created using information from observations, court records and informal interviews. These person profiles were then coded using Atlas.ti and analyzed using thematic analysis.  

Findings: Findings suggest that participants in the parallel FDC were able to focus on their successes and barriers during their progress to recovery and the court allocated more time for participants to speak directly to the judge during their hearings. Participants benefited by observing not only program completion but dismissal of their criminal case. However, some participants expressed concerns with the parallel model as child welfare caseworkers were not present during the hearings and, at times, were unaware of participant steps to recovery. While the integrated court approach involved the same staff across hearings, the focus of the FDC hearings emphasized participant recovery. Participants also had limited time to speak directly to the overseeing judge. Participants often expressed feeling trapped in the integrated FDC program since leaving the program would result in oversight of their child welfare cases by the same staff members.

Conclusion and Implications: These findings highlight the benefits and barriers of each FDC model currently in use. While many FDCs utilize the integrated model to ensure continuity of court proceedings, the parallel model provides participants and court staff with more time to focus on the participant’s recovery and child maltreatment issues independently. As many FDC continue to be developed nationwide, this study may inform social work practice with clients who have interactions with child welfare systems, FDCs and community recovery programs.