Family Drug Courts: An Innovation of Transformation offers a wealth of information about the struggles of real people who have been drawn into the court system and have lost their children due to substance abuse. You will read about their personal journeys and a courtroom that gave them hope, and then gave them their lives and their children back. This book is for the professional who works with these families. It is for anyone that wants to get a front-row seat to what happens in this ordinarily confidential setting and for those who have had their own battle with mental health and addiction. This book is full of inspiration, and it contains a model for change that can transform individuals and communities everywhere.
It was a normal day in court in Santa Clara County. Sandra Parker came into my courtroom pregnant with her seventh child to a hearing designed to assist her in getting back her 6th child, a little boy, age 1. She was frazzled and had just tested positive for methamphetamine use, despite being in her eighth month of pregnancy. I give her the same lecture I always gave at this point: that she was endangering her unborn child and that she would not get her baby boy back unless she stopped using drugs. She looked at me as though I were asking her to go to the moon. I recognized that look of hopelessness and helplessness because I had seen it so many times before in this court. I knew in my heart of hearts that she would not be able to change her behavior on her own and I was not really sure that we could help. I told her that I would see her for a review in a couple of months.
Not surprisingly, a Protective Custody Warrant came across my desk for a “Baby Boy Parker.” Sandra Parker was about to go into labor and the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) was preparing to take her 7th child due to ongoing drug use. I signed it.
A few weeks after I signed the warrant to pick up the newborn, Ms. Parker came to court for her 6th child’s case as was expected and planned. She did not look pregnant any longer. Before the case was called, all the attorneys had a discussion with me about the fact that the police and the social workers could not locate the newborn. Ms. Parker had the baby somewhere, but it was not at a local or neighboring hospital. They had also searched her apartment and could not locate the new baby. My heart sunk. What were we doing here? The best we could do is to plan to take baby after baby from this woman?
I called the case and asked Ms. Parker where her newborn baby was located. She refused to answer me. She was belligerent and probably high at the time. She said that she would never let us have her newborn. I was asked by DFCS to hold her in contempt and put her in jail until she revealed the location of her baby. The Protective Custody Warrant that had been issued gave the court the authority to take such emergency jurisdiction. It was all bad as far as I was concerned: jail a mother for hiding her baby until she tells the whereabouts of it, or let her go and endanger the baby with her chronic illegal drug use and dangerous drug-centered lifestyle which had been well documented. At the time I believed that those were my two choices. So I incarcerated her. At that moment I did not know if I was going to bring more harm to the baby or not. I would spend many sleepless nights wondering where the baby was and whether I had taken the right action.
I told her that she held the key to her own jail cell in that if she told me the location of the baby, I would have the baby taken into protective custody and then I would release her to freedom. I brought her back to my courtroom day after day. I would ask her to reveal the location of the baby, she would refuse and I would have her taken back to her cell. She was using the jail phone to make collect calls to people all over the United States. At one point, she made several calls to Illinois so a police team went to Illinois to see it they could find the baby. They couldn’t. All of her calls from jail were pulled and transcribed. Many law enforcement members were working on the case around the clock. The expenditure of public dollars on this situation astounded me.
I thought of all the other women I was seeing each day that were losing their children to their addiction and how it was one child and then the next, and then the next. I wondered what we were doing to the soul of that person who could not stop using drugs in the face of such dire consequences.
So, I kept bringing her back to court. I told her that over the weekend, if she decided to reveal the location of the baby that I would be available to have her released from jail. What I noticed about Ms. Parker is that over time she became softer, less belligerent and even began to have a twinkle in her eye. Her skin cleared up and she gained a little bit of weight from eating three meals a day. Her hair looked shiny and her demeanor became lighter. She got clean by being in jail. After 6 weeks, she agreed to tell my deputy (who was quite familiar with her now from all the trips back and forth from the holding cell) where the baby was located so long as the people caring for the baby would not get into any trouble. My deputy relayed that message to me in open court. I agreed.
That day the baby was brought in by a number of family and friends. He was fat and happy. He was a beautiful baby boy. I let Ms. Parker go free, but the baby was taken into protective custody and she was never to act as his mother in the future. She went back to using drugs as soon as she could. She lost the 6th baby as well. Altogether, she lost 7 children to her addiction.
Ms. Parker was only one case of a multitude of cases that were all too similar. We have the addict mother who cannot stop using drugs. We then take the baby and she cannot stop her drug use because of the pain, trauma and shame of being an addict mother and losing her child in the first place. The long waiting lists for drug assessments and treatment only add insult to injury. I did not feel sorry for these women; but I felt that true justice required a different approach. The law mandates that we return these babies to their parents if they can complete services to rehabilitate themselves. I was not sure if the services were truly in place.
We had a specialized drug treatment court at the time, but it was voluntary and space was very limited. Only those who were “ready” to stop being an active addict applied. I knew that I had to make a change because research showed that forced treatment is as effective as voluntary treatment . This book talks about that change and the expansion of the drug treatment model that we know is working for families all over the country. Ms. Parker’s case was the tipping point for Santa Clara County.
A former prosecutor who specialized in crimes against children and the elderly, she has more than two decades of experience in the area of child maltreatment and effective family interventions.
Lucero has acted as faculty for numerous national training conferences for judges and child welfare professionals throughout the United States. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Santa Clara County Champion of Peace Award and the 2011 National Collaborative Leadership Award from the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare.
Lucero lives in San Jose, California, with her husband of twenty years, her two daughters, and three family pets. She likes to read and go for long walks in her free time.