Lewis County Close to Reinstating Family Recovery Court

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

After a nearly two-year lapse, Lewis County will once again have a Family Recovery Court, a therapeutic court designed to help reunite families in which parents have lost custody of children because of substance abuse.

“It combines law and justice and recovery, similar to a drug court,” said Family Recovery Court and Drug Court Manager J.P. Anderson. 

The court will be open to 10 qualifying families in dependency proceedings, meaning they have lost custody of children to the state. Anderson said he expects the court will be up and running in the next two months. 

Family Recovery Court, along with Drug Court, is funded by a 1-10th of 1 percent mental health and substance abuse sales tax. State law requires that the county have a family recovery court if it collects the money. 

However, for about two years, Lewis County’s Family Recovery Court has been stalled for a number of reasons. 

One of those is staff turnover, said Anderson, who took over management of Family Recovery Court along with Drug Court about nine months ago. 

Anderson said the contentious nature of court proceedings damaged the operation of the therapeutic court, which like drug court, relies on the cooperation between prosecution, defense and recovery components. 

Unlike other therapeutic courts, such as the county’s drug court, Family Recovery Court requires cooperation of agencies outside Lewis County government, such as the Department of Social and Health Services, Child Protective Services and the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

Attorneys from the AG’s office represent the state in Family Recovery Court. The Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office is not involved directly in the court.

“There was in that court … a difficulty in coming to consensus,” Anderson said. “Everyone’s on the same page now.”

When it formally starts up again, the court will have room for a maximum of 10 families going through the dependency court process. Superior Court Judge Joely O’Rourke will preside over the court. 

Families end up in the dependency process after the state, through the Department of Social and Health Services and Child Protective Services, removes children from their custody due to a variety of issues. 

In situations in which a chemical dependency resulted in that action by the state, families can qualify for Family Recovery Court. 

“You sign up for a more rigorous but more supportive dependency court process,” Anderson said. “If you can begin working with them and helping them on a daily basis on a plan to get their kids back, that’s what it’s all about.”

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said the law does not have any provisions for penalties against the county for not having an active recovery court. He and Anderson both said the court never officially disappeared, but was on hold.

“We’ve had the court, we just haven’t had any participants,” Meyer said. 

On Tuesday, Lewis County’s three Superior Court judges met with the Board of Lewis County Commissioners, Drug Court and Family Recovery Court Administrator J.P. Anderson and Meyer to discuss the county’s progress in working with state partners to reinstate the court. 

“I’ve been checking regularly with Superior Court to make sure they’ve been making progress as to a restart date,” Meyer told The Chronicle.

Anderson said the court’s partners, including the DSHS, the Office of the Attorney General, Superior Court and others have met regularly for about four months updating policies and procedures to ensure the court runs smoothly and allows “every person to maintain their role but also work together to come to a consensus,” he said. 

The group researched successful Family Recovery Courts in other areas, such as Mason and Thurston counties. 

“We’ve developed our new policies and procedures and our parent handbook based off a lot of other programs that work well,” Anderson said.


Reporter Justyna Tomtas contributed to this story.