Family Dependency Drug Courts


Although the first family dependency drug court appeared in Reno, Nevada in 1995, Florida was not far behind, implementing the first Florida family dependency drug court in Miami in 1999.  As of 2017, approximately 370 family dependency drug courts (also called family treatment courts or family drug courts) exist across the nation to bridge the gap between adult drug court and traditional dependency court. Florida currently has 13 family dependency drug courts.   

The goals recognized within traditional dependency court (timeliness, safety, permanency, the general well-being of children etc.) are included in Family Dependency Drug Court, but principles found in adult drug court (i.e. early identification, substance use disorder treatment,  a nonadversarial approach, services for co-occurring  concerns, frequent drug and alcohol testing, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and incentives and sanctions) are also incorporated and combined with evidence-based practices.   

This unique approach allows for participants to work on reunifying with their children while receiving timely substance use treatment, two timelines that are difficult to reconcile in traditional dependency court.  According to the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA), courts should establish the permanency of a child in foster care no later than twelve months after placement; however, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) does not recommend decreasing substance use treatment until at least 12 months have passed.  This causes conflict because the child’s permanency is to be decided before a parent is likely to be ready to reduce substance use treatment, and in fact, the parent may not be ready at all. However, because of the intensive services, increased family visitation, and more frequent court hearings, research has shown that participants in family dependency drug courts have better outcomes than comparable families in traditional dependency courts. 

Why Family Dependency Drug Court Matters

Research shows that 60 to 80 percent of children with substantiated child abuse and neglect cases have at least one custodial parent with a substance use disorder. Moreover, a 2018 study concluded that 69% of children who participated in a Florida early childhood court over a five-year period had been placed into foster care due to parental substance use. 

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), family dependency drug court has the following positive outcomes compared to traditional dependency courts:

  • Higher rates of substance use treatment program completion by parent
  • Lower number of days for children in out-of-home care
  • Higher rates of family reunification
  • Lower rates of termination of parental rights
  • Lower rates of re-abuse (re-entry into foster care after reunification)
  • Lower rates of criminal recidivism by parent (if applicable)
  • Cost-Effectiveness (a savings of $5000-$13,000 per family)

A similar independent study also found an average savings of $1 million dollars per 200 cases.

Trainings and Webinars

The Office of Court Improvement will list webinars here as they become available.

“Family Dependency Drug Court: Best Practices Overview”

May 20, 2019

Description: This webinar will provide an overview of the benefits of family dependency drug courts; the roles of multidisciplinary team members; and system, parent, and child-focused best practices.

“Where Are We Going? An Overview of Data for Florida Family Dependency Drug Court”

March 1, 2019

Description: This webinar will provide an overview of the evaluation and monitoring best practices for family dependency drug court, including what data should be collected, and what the proposed certification process looks like for the future.

Publications and Resources

More information regarding family dependency drug courts is available on the Children and Family Futures site.

For information on the opioid crisis and judicial response, visit The Opioid Crisis page.

Trauma effects many people in different ways, especially those who are involved in the child welfare system. For information regarding trauma, curricula that can be used in training others, and a self-care trauma toolkit for professionals, please visit the Family Court Tool Kit: Trauma and Child Development, which was created by the Office of Court Improvement.


Contact Adrienne Miller for additional information on family dependency drug court.