Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin moderated a panel discussion on Fayette County’s Family Treatment Court during day two of the Healing Appalachia event, which was held on the grounds of the State Fair of West Virginia.
Healing Appalachia is an annual fundraising event produced by the nonprofit Hope in the Hills, LLC. It brings awareness to substance abuse disorders, celebrates recovery, and works to create more projects “fostering communities of recovery.” More than 100,000 Americans died as the result of a drug overdose in 2021, and West Virginia continues to suffer the highest rate of overdose death in the nation.
“This epidemic is ravaging our state,” said Baldwin. “We must all come together to help end this once and for all.”
“I was proud to once again be a part of Healing Appalachia,” Baldwin continued. “Too often I hear from those who struggle with substance abuse disorder. Events like Healing Appalachia let people know they are not alone and that their community is supportive of their continued recovery. I was also honored to lead a panel during this event to bring awareness to the Fayette County Treatment Court.”
Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ewing and Fayette County Family Treatment Coordinator Heather Lucas also served as panelists during the event. Alyssa Berry, a Family Treatment Court graduate who now works as Parent Resource Navigator in Fayette County, also joined the discussion.
“The Family Treatment Courts – and specifically the Family Treatment Court in Fayette County – [are] doing some exciting, effective new things for folks here in West Virginia, and are positively impacting people’s lives,” Sen. Baldwin told the several thousand in attendance.
Judge Ewing said, “Family Treatment Court is what we call a ‘problem solving court,’ and the problem that Family Treatment Court is designed to fix is substance abuse.”
Ewing explained that a “treatment team” consisting of community volunteers works directly with those enrolled in the Family Treatment Court program to create a foundation of support. The court also works with the community to coordinate recovery resources for enrollees.
“When it’s all said and done, they’ve (program enrollees) built a different life for themselves,” Ewing added. “It’s a change program. That’s what it is – it’s all about change.”
Program coordinator Heather Lucas then spoke about the recovery process, saying, “The recovery for each [individual] is a little different.”
“When our participants – who are there by choice – allow themselves to be transparent, they create their own roadmap and timeframe,” Lucas continued. “Everybody’s puzzle looks different. When we try a piece that doesn’t fit, we try something different.”
“We have close relationships with them,” Lucas noted. “Every single day we have contact.”
Alyssa Berry, the day’s final panelist, then spoke about her experience as a Family Treatment Court enrollee.
“I wanted to do it because, rather than a normal CPS (Child Protective Services) case, Family Treatment Court gave me the opportunity to learn and grow with my kids and be able to see them more,” Berry said. “[It allowed me to] really work on my recovery in a way that works best for me.”
“One of the biggest challenges was trying to just focus on my recovery,” Berry added. “Knowing that my children were being taken care of, but just trying to get to the point where I was okay in my recovery, and then learn how to be a parent. Family Treatment Court gave me that opportunity.”
Since her graduation from the program, Berry has been working primarily with parents and guardians currently involved in abuse and neglect cases, saying, “I can give them guidance on what I was doing because I’ve had that experience.”
Including Fayette County, 11 circuit courts currently maintain a Family Treatment Court in West Virginia. Ohio County (1st Circuit); Marshall, Tyler, Wetzel counties (2nd Circuit); Wood County (4th Circuit); Roane, Calhoun counties (5th Circuit); Logan County (7th Circuit); McDowell County (8th Circuit); Kanawha County (13th Circuit); Randolph County (20th Circuit); Boone County (25th Circuit); Nicholas County (28th Circuit).
“We need more of them (Family Treatment Courts) across the State of West Virginia,” Baldwin noted at the panel’s conclusion. “We’re going to work with the Supreme Court, the legislature, county judges, and non-profits – including Healing Appalachia – to see how many more Family Treatment Courts we can get across the state to help people recover and reunite with their families.”
“There is hope, we are healing, and recovery is real,” Baldwin said.