Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 21, 2013

Program aims to keep children drug-free

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — When Scott Reese was appointed Boyd district judge, he asked the state Administrative Office of the Courts if he could start a drug court program for juveniles.

When he found out the program has been discontinued because it had proven to be ineffective, he settled for having one of only a handful of misdemeanor drug courts in the state instead.

But the desire to have sort of local initiative aimed at keeping kids off drugs — and to help those who have fallen prey to substance abuse to get help and get clean and stay clean — never waned.

Reese said he spoke to one of the court-designated workers, Karen Davis, about starting a diversion program for youngsters whose offenses were tied to drugs. Davis, he said, told him she didn’t think it would be feasible, mainly because Boyd is among the top 10 counties in the state in terms of CDW caseloads.

CDWs essentially function as gatekeepers in the juvenile courts, which are presided over by district judges.

But Davis had a change of heart after one of her family members graduated from Reese’s drug court. After seeing the difference the program made in her relative’s life, Davis was convinced such a program could help steer local youngsters off the path of addiction.

She contacted her supervisor, Deb Bennett, and was told there was only one such program in the commonwealth, in Madison County. Spearheaded by the chief of police of Richmond, the county seat, the initiative receives no state funds, but rather is paid for with drug forfeiture money, Reese said.

After learning the mechanics of the Richmond program and observing it in action, Reese said he went about assembling a team of experts to form a local juvenile substance abuse diversion task force. The responses he received from the people he asked to be on it were enthusiastic, he said.

“Not one person I asked to participate hesitated for even a moment before they said yes,” he said.

And, since the program is unfunded, they all agreed to do so on a voluntary basis, Reese said.

In addition to Reese and Davis, members of the task force include Ashlee Childers, Davis’ fellow CDW; Verity Middle School Principal David Greene; Dr. Patsy Lindsey, director of pupil personnel for the Ashland Independent Schools; Lt. Darren Wilson of the Ashland Police Department; David Trimble, Boyd County schools athletic director and assistant principal at Boyd County High School; and two representatives from the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which operates a detention center on Roberts Drive.

Pathways Inc. also is part of the team. Reese said when he approached the regional mental health care agency about providing counseling for youngsters in the program, “they were excited to do it,” he said.

The program works similarly to drug court — juvenile offenders receive counseling, undergo drug testing, complete homework assignments and can avoid jail time and have the charges against them dismissed if they successfully complete the program. But, it has an added component that  sets it apart — youngsters can be admitted to it without having criminal charges filed against them.

“If a parent has child they suspect is abusing drugs, what they can do is file a petition with a CDW stating the child is beyond parental control” and that will set the wheels in motion, Reese said.

If a child successfully completes the program, the petition is dropped. If a youngster refuses to cooperate, a formal charge can be filed “and it becomes an act of contempt if they don’t comply,” Reese said.

The program has been in operation for about 2 1⁄2 months and currently has about a half-dozen youngsters enrolled in it, Reese said.

The purpose of having a team of experts involved with the initiative is that each team member brings a different perspective to the table, which helps in determining the best approach for assisting a youngster and keeping him or her drug-free, Reese said.

For example, one of the educators on the team might have dealt with a youngster in the program in a school setting and could have knowledge of a child’s home or school life that could prove valuable in determining a course of action.

Reese said there was no way the program could function without the team, and said he felt incredibly fortunate to have it, particularly considering none of the people on it are being paid a cent for their efforts.

Though the initiative is in its early stages, Reese said he was pleased with what had been accomplished so far.

“It feels good,” he said. “It feels like we’re actually doing something.”

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.