The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON - Following legislation passed this year to allow the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to establish family treatment courts, an advisory committee has begun planning the creation of the first three in the state, which will be located in Boone, Randolph and Ohio counties.

The Family Treatment Court State Advisory Committee had its organizational meeting Tuesday, according to a release. The committee was established by House Bill 3057, which the Legislature passed in March.

By statute, Chief Justice Beth Walker chairs the committee. Local members of the 20-person committee include Bob Hansen, director of the West Virginia Office of Drug Control Policy; Karen Yost, CEO of Prestera Center; and Peggy Proudfoot Harman, director of the Master's of Social Work Program at Marshall University.

The law allows the Supreme Court to establish and oversee family treatment courts, which will protect children and help parents found guilty of abuse and neglect overcome substance abuse disorders before they permanently lose custody of their children.

Each of the family treatment courts also will have its own local advisory committee made up of the supervising judge, the county prosecutor, a defense attorney who regularly represents people in child abuse and neglect cases, the community service manager of the Bureau of Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Resources, and a court-appointed special advocate.

Over 400 family treatment courts currently operate in the United States. West Virginia's program will be based on proven strategies developed in other states and will feature collaboration between the courts, treatment providers and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Participation in family treatment courts will be voluntary.

"We know that a very large percentage of our child abuse and neglect cases result from substance abuse by one or both parents," Walker said in the release.

"Family treatment courts use a family-centered approach to provide substance abuse disorder treatment combined with other services that these families need. We are very optimistic that this program will help families across the state in a new and very beneficial way."

The law directs the advisory committee to evaluate and recommend standards for planning and implementing family treatment courts; evaluate their effectiveness and efficiency; and encourage inter-agency cooperation. During Tuesday's meeting, a working group was established to develop a strategic plan as well as policies and procedures to govern the operation of the family treatment court.

The advisory committee will report annually to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability.

Funds for the first three programs are provided by the Office of Drug Control Policy. Circuit Judges William Thompson, David Sims and David Wilmoth will oversee the pilot programs.