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National Collaboration Addresses Impact of Opioids on Children in State Courts

In addition to the impact of opioid abuse on criminal courts, the nation’s family and juvenile courts, and child welfare system, is also being deeply impacted.  A recent report by DHS/Administration for Children and Families shows that, after years of decline, the number of children in foster care is rising.  Nearly three-quarters of all states reported an increase in the number of children entering foster care from FY 2014 to 2015.  From FY 2012 to 2015, the percentage of removals nationally due to parental substance abuse increased 13 percent to 32.2 percent.

  • Nationally, foster care costs increased from $7.6 billion in 2012, to $ 9.2 billion in 2015.  This represents a 21.6 percent increase in cost.
  • Ohio: The number of children served in foster care increased by 6.1 percent between FY 2012 and 2015.  Costs of foster care increased by $29.3 million (8.3 percent).  Foster care cases where drug use of the parent was indicated as a factor in removal increased from 18.2 percent to 21.8 percent.
  • Kentucky: The number of children served in foster care increased by 5.7 percent between FY 2012 and 2015.  Costs of foster care increased by $11.9 million (18.8 percent).  Foster care cases where drug use of the parent was indicated a factor remained steady at approximately 25.9 percent between FY 2012 and 2015.
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) significantly impact the likelihood of future substance abuse, violence, and justice system involvement.[3] Prevention and intervention strategies, such as early identification of trauma and trauma-informed treatment can significantly reduce the impacts of ACES.

With SJI support, the NCSC, the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR), the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and The National Judicial College (NJC) have developed a collaboration to assist state courts in addressing the impact of opioids on children.

This assistance provided by this collaboration is broken out into two focus areas: 1) Technical Assistance; and 2) Education and Training.

Focus Area 1: Technical Assistance

The NCSC continues to work on addressing the impact of the opioid epidemic on children and families, particularly the impact on the foster care system.  That work has included working to identify promising and best practices to pilot in state and local courts that will improve outcomes for children impacted by the opioid epidemic

1. Infusing Family Treatment Court Core Principles to All Dependency Cases. Implementing state court-based pilot programs that work infuse the treatment court principles that have proven success in family dependency treatment courts (e.g. non-adversarial collaborative team approach, timely access to treatment and services, increased judicial oversight, improved family-centered services and parent-child relationships, etc.) and apply them to all dependency cases.

  • Identifying the core principles and develop a plan in each pilot jurisdiction of how to infuse those principles into all dependency cases with substance use disorder.
  • Piloting the approach in three local trial courts that don’t have an existing family treatment court (3 pilots).
  • Disseminating pilot findings, successful strategies, and promising practices.

2. Expanding the Blueprint Framework.  Continuing to pilot and expand the work around adapting the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) to parents with substance use disorder who are at risk of entering the child protection system. This initiative is now called, Strengthening Children and Families: A Blueprint for Community-Based Solutions.  The NCSC is expanding the pilot to additional local jurisdictions (three sites), but also working with the state-level judicial leaders in those states on the role of the courts

3. Courts partnering with the medical community to address the needs of pregnant women with opioid use disorder and infants born substance-exposed.  Implementing pilot programs focusing on the court’s role in addressing the needs of pregnant women with opioid use disorder and infants born substance-exposed. This work is expanding the lessons learned in the HHS/Children’s Bureau-funded Quality Improvement Center on Collaborative Court Teams, which worked to expand family treatment and infant-toddler dependency courts to include the medical community (ob-gyns, pediatricians, public health).  NCSC has been a partner in these efforts, and has led the demonstration sites in two courts in Alabama, one in Georgia, and one in Alaska.  Much of this work is prevention-focused, and includes methods courts can us both pre and post-petition in cases involving this target population.  This also leverages the opportunities provided by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

In FY 2019, SJI partnered with The U.S. Department of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to provide funding to 8 rural demonstration sites to address the opioid crisis.  SJI funding is encouraging the sites to include the state courts in their work, and enable courts to have the resources they need to contribute to the overall objectives of each demonstration sites.  The Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR) – a non-profit that has a long history serving as a technical assistance provider for BJA grants – is providing the technical assistance for this initiative.


To address the impact of opioids on children in state courts, BJA and IIR are partnering with SJI to support intensive training and technical assistance effort designed to assist local courts and their stakeholders in strongly aligning existing opioid initiatives in their communities, and developing comprehensive and multidisciplinary approaches to more effectively respond to Opioid Use Disorders (OUD) and other emerging drug threats.


The focus in FY 2019 includes a local court that has taken innovative and multi-disciplinary approaches to address the impact of the opioid epidemic on court-involved children and families.  Once the model site is selected, a solicitation will be released similar to the Intensive Training and Technical Assistance for Local Teams to Develop a Comprehensive and Multidisciplinary Approach to Opioid Use Disorder and Emerging Drug Treats.  Communities will be required to participate as a multidisciplinary team that includes a minimum of 4 members and a maximum of 6 members.  Team members will likely include judges, child welfare, community supervision (juvenile and/or adult), treatment providers, schools, law enforcement, local government leaders, and other key stakeholders.  Team members will receive travel scholarships to attend a 3-day site visit to observe and learn at the selected model site.  They benefit from networking across sites with their peers, and from receiving additional support from subject matter experts as well as tailored technical assistance.  A total of six (6) teams will be selected to participate.


The deliverable from this project will be a work plan from each site that describes: 1) progress to align existing and new initiatives and develop comprehensive and multidisciplinary approaches to more effectively respond to OUD and other emerging drug threats; and 2) what components of the site visit, and follow-up engagements, played a role in realizing the aforementioned progress.


BJA and IIR are also partnering with SJI to convene experts and stakeholders from across the United States in the fields of courts, child welfare, schools and law enforcement to discuss the impact of the opioid epidemic on children and families, and to discuss best practices and opportunities for collaboration across disciplines.  The convening will include two primary components: 1) an in-depth review of the best practices of each field in combatting the opioid epidemic, with an emphasis on children and families; and 2) an assessment of where the fields intersect that provide opportunities for collaboration.  It is anticipated that additional partners, such as CCJ, COSCA, the NCSC, NCJFCJ, and NJC along with BJA will provide support for this project in relation to their respective constituencies.



Focus Area 2: Education and Training

 In FY 2020, the NCJFCJ is hosting two regional summits for interested court jurisdictions who are currently impacted by the opioid epidemic.  During each of the two-day summits, participants will learn from experts, discuss best practices in handling opioid related cases and develop action plans to implement when returning to their local jurisdiction that address the unique needs of children and families impacted by opioid misuse.

Two regional summits comprising of five judicial teams will consist of a judicial officer, attorney, health care provider, and representative from child welfare.  NCJFCJ staff will coordinate logistics for the summits and provide off-site ongoing technical assistance and resources as judicial teams work on implementing their action plans following the summit.  The NCJFCJ is also presenting three workshops at a national, state or regional training highlighting judicial leadership, collaboration, action planning efforts, and outcomes by the participating jurisdictions at the regional summits and to share “Lessons Learned.”

NCJFCJ will host two national webinars that will examine “Innovative Practices in Handling Opioid Related Cases” and “Lessons Learned from Regional Opioid Summit Courts.” These interactive virtual learning opportunities will be open to courts across the nation and participants will be given the opportunity to ask questions of expert presenters and learn from other participants.  The NCJFCJ will promote the webinars on its NCJFCJ membership list serve, the child abuse and neglect court list serve and other contact sites. Webinars will run approximately 75 minutes and will be recorded and available for viewing on the NCJFCJ website following the live session.

The NCJFJC will collaborate on specific deliverables with the NJC: 1) Webinars as a Series on Opioid Use Disorder and the Courts: Protecting Children and Supporting Families; and 2) Four course inserts built into NJC’s General Jurisdiction Course.

NJC will convene a curriculum advisory group to select the topics, faculty and additional resources, and may include representatives on the curriculum advisory group from the National Association of State Judicial Educators and the National Juvenile and Family Court Judges.  The five webinar topics would be selected by the advisory group and may include topics such as:

  • Scope of the Problem / Need for a Comprehensive Approach
  • Early childhood development and trauma
  • Success Stories, Promising Practices and Judicial Leadership
  • Juvenile and Family Drug Courts
  • Effective Treatment


Each webinar would run about 75 minutes and be offered “live,” at a specific date and time using a toll-free number at no cost to the participants.  This format will enhance interactivity and engagement with the faculty.  The NJC will take the lead on the webinar series and will work with the NCJFCJ to provide webinars in areas that the Council has an expertise, such as Juvenile and Family Drug Courts, and Shawn Marsh, an expert in child development and trauma, to make this a Judicial Epicenter Project. The NJC and NCJFCJ will work together on marketing, dissemination announcements of the webinars, and host the recorded webinars of each of their respective websites.


This initiative will continue to assist state courts in addressing children who have experienced trauma due to parental opioid abuse and exposure to opioids.  In addition to trauma related to removal from homes, children placed under court supervision suffer from malnutrition, failure to thrive, mobility/walking, and speech issues.  Specifically:


  • Implementing state court-based pilot programs that focus on reducing trauma and promoting safe and timely placement of children, including the use of trauma assessment instruments for young children (particularly below the age of 5), and trauma services to help provide support to children as they navigate the court and foster care systems.
  • Partnering with key stakeholders overseeing the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children to explore mechanisms for the more rapid placement of children with relatives (or other safe alternatives) across state lines to reduce child trauma and foster care costs.
  • Educating judges, court staff, foster parents, and others on identification and early intervention strategies in cases that involve very young children of parents with opioid abuse disorder.
  • Promoting evidence-based prevention, identification, and treatment for children and their parents related to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Substance-Exposed Infants.
  • Identifying best practices, pilot, and evaluate outcomes for early intervention court strategies to assist parents with substance abuse issues who are at risk of losing their children.  Examine existing and possible future court programs to enhance the recovery efforts of parents, while enabling their children to be safely maintained with them in the home.
  • Partnering with the state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and child welfare agencies to identify the ways that PDMP data could be used to improve services to families and children, and pilot data sharing projects to further this effort.