Family Drug Court brings out the positive

Published 12:15 am Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about Family Drug Court. The first installment, an outline of the program. was published Sunday in The Selma Times-Journal.

SELMA — Brittany Tolar feels like a mother again.

After losing temporary custody of her four children at the end of 2009, it took Tolar two months to take Greg Dreveny up on the offer to enroll in the Family Drug Court program. Dreveny, family dependency drug court coordinator, suggested the program to Tolar because the one-year curriculum works specifically with parents with drug or alcohol addictions, helping them to overcome these addictions and creating a suitable home environment for raising children.

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“I had been using marijuana since I was 1 3 years old,” Tolar said. “I didn’t think it was a problem.”

But the court system saw it as a problem, and took her children.

At her first court session Feb. 4, Tolar sat off to the side of the group, patiently waiting for Judge Robert Armstrong to call her forward.

“I was scared to death,” Tolar said. “I didn’t event want to come, but I’ve got to have my kids back in my life and get the drugs out of my life.”

Tolar listened to the all the other progress reviews before Armstrong called her up — the last to stand before him.

“Hearing other people’s stories helps me,” Tolar said. “It makes me feel not so alone.”

The encouragement and community support from peers, Dreveny and Armstrong are part of the program’s three phases.

As part of the program’s enrollment, participants undergo a mental health and drug screening. From the results of these, Dreveny and the judge design a personalized curriculum with the participant.

Phase one entails weekly court sessions, group discussion sessions three or four times a week, clean drug screens and sessions with Dreveny for three months.

Phase two requires court session every other week, group discussion sessions a couple of days per week, phone calls or face-to-face checkins with Dreveny and clean drug screens for three months.

Phase three involves attending court once a month, attending group sessions less frequently, less calling from Dreveny and submitting clean drug screens for six months.

Once a participant completes the program and graduates, he or she becomes a member of the alumni association, mentor new participants or speak at court sessions.

“This is the fastest way back to your children,” Armstrong said to Tolar. “You’re going to change and you’re going to change fast. And we’re going to turn your life around.”

Felicia Stitten has turned her life around.

Four months after enrolling in the program, the courts returned her custody of her children.

“The only thing that has changed in my house is that I don’t smoke anymore,” Stitten said. Her children were removed from her home because she smoked marijuana, resulting in necessities, like the power in her home, being turned off.

Dreveny and Armstrong worked with her to slowly get her bills paid. On Feb. 9, all the hard work paid off and her children are back in her custody.

She is in phase two of the program, and not ready to leave it yet, joking that she would find a way back into trouble so that she could enroll in the program again.

“Their lives were out of control and they lost their children,” Armstrong said. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to get better and better for them.”