Allies for Substance Abuse working toward family drug court

Allies for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) of Anderson County is working in collaboration with the county juvenile court and at least 27 other community agencies to create a family drug treatment court.

The purpose of the family drug court would be to focus on reaching out to the county’s youth and adolescent population considered most at risk for developing substance abuse disorders, said Stephanie Strutner, Director of ASAP, to school board members that were present at the Anderson County School Board meeting on Thursday, April 6.

“These are students and adolescents in our community who might already have a substance abuse disorder, they might have already experienced some level of substance abuse, or perhaps they are on the parameter of using them,” Strutner said, “These students could be referred to the program in a variety of different ways: through truancy court, school disciplinary hearings from the Department of Children’s Services, the county juvenile court, Project AWARE, or a number of other community agencies.”

The plan is for the family drug court to operate “in similar ways to our adult court,” Strutner added, but explained to school board members that the problem with treating adolescents is the enabling environment that often gives rise to, and/or feeds the youth’s drug use addiction.

“In working with adolescents, we’re not able to remove the substance user or the offender from their enabling environment because with a child that’s in the home,” Strutner said.

The goal of the family drug court then is “to rehabilitate that family unit,” she said.

Strutner’s appearance before the Anderson County School Board of Education was yet another step in ASAP’s efforts to make the family drug treatment court a reality for Anderson County.

According to Strutner, ASAP has already put in a request to the Anderson County Commission to help come up with funds to bridge the funding gap that is currently an obstacle preventing the program from getting underway.

United Way of Anderson County, a privately funded nonprofit charitable organization, provided ASAP $35,000 in funds earmarked to start up a family drug treatment court to combat substance abuse in the county.

United Way’s donation comprises approximately half the funding amount to get the program started, but ASAP still needs another $35,000 to get the program up and running, Strutner said.

Since being awarded the money from United Way, ASAP has been working to fill the rest of the funding gap, she said.

“ASAP has done a significant fundraising effort to generate some funds. The City of Rocky Top has also made a financial contribution. We’ve asked Anderson County Commission for $35,000, which is, of course, a large ask, but an idea has been proposed to have the county’s municipalities and school systems share the financial burden,” said Strutner.

Anderson County Commissioner Theresa Scott (Dist. 7) suggested, during a recent county commission budget meeting, that the remaining $35,000 be split up among the community - Anderson County School System, Clinton and Oak Ridge City Schools, and all municipalities - and these major community stakeholders “amicably” share the costs for funding the remaining half.

Scott, who is active in the City of Oak Ridge’s Neighborhood Watch Program geared towards educating the community about problems like drug abuse and crime prevention, said the county can take a similar approach.

“We can do that in the county, but the way we got to start doing that is through education. We’ve got to educate the kids. We’ve got to educate the parents. We’ve got to educate the people in the communities,” said Scott.

“Perhaps the Anderson County School System can fund approximately $15,000, I’m asking Anderson County Commission to fund $15,000, and I’m asking the City of Oak Ridge and the City of Oak Ridge School System to fund $2,500, and the City of Clinton and City of Clinton School System” to fund the rest, said Scott.

Scott explained to board members her main reason for pushing this fundraising project is so that everyone in the county is “all together in this.”

Continued Scott, “It’s not just a problem in the heart of the county--it’s the whole county that this would affect--all the school systems and municipalities...It’s only fair that everybody takes part.”

Strutner explained that the idea of a family drug program originated from a juvenile court improvement program that started about seven years ago, and has been a program that “has been a long time in the making,” and includes a number of community collaborators “ready and willing to pull together” to make this program work.

The family drug court could immediately begin operations once funding is made available, but the deadline for getting the rest of the money is fast approaching, Strutner apprised the school board.

“We need to secure 100 percent funding no later than July 1,” she said.

If funding is 100 percent secured, there are some sustainable grant projects that could fund an existing program such as the family drug court,” she said, adding that the sustainable grants could not help get the project “off the ground and running,” but they can be used to sustain it.

“We hope that by really honing in on wrap-around services for these families and these juveniles that we will be able to put a stop to the generational cycle of substance abuse in this community that is landing on our adolescents as they become adults,” commented Strutner.

Members of the Anderson County School Board stated they supported having a family drug court in the county, and unanimously voted to refer the request to their budget committee where the budget committee will look into finding some money in their budget to go towards the funding the project.