Family treatment drug courts

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Family treatment drug courts (FTDCs) work with parents involved in the child welfare system who may lose custody of their children due to substance abuse. FTDCs include intensive judicial monitoring, substance abuse treatment, frequent drug testing, comprehensive wrap-around services, and rewards and sanctions linked to program compliance. Eligible families are referred to FTDCs by a parent’s attorney, a social worker, a FTDC administrator, or a family court judge; program participation is voluntary1, 2. FTDCs address both child safety issues and parental substance abuse treatment3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased family reunification

  • Increased substance use disorder treatment

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved family functioning

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that family treatment drug courts (FTDCs) increase the likelihood that children will safely reunite with their parent(s) and reduce the time children spend in foster care3, 4, 5. Parents who participate in FTDCs are more likely to enter and complete substance abuse treatment than parents who receive usual care4, 5, 6, 7.

Parents who participate in FTDCs receive more treatment than parents who receive usual care1, 6, 7, 8. FTDCs may also improve family functioning9, 10 and decrease children’s re-entry to foster care9. Parents who complete FTDC programs are more likely to reunite with their children than parents who do not participate or participate but do not complete the program2. Enhancing FTDCs with intensive, individualized multi-dimensional family therapy and strategies to increase family engagement and retention, such as peer mentoring and support groups, may further increase the likelihood of reunification10, 11, 12, 13.

In some circumstances, children whose parents are participating in FTDCs are not placed in their permanent homes as quickly as children whose parents are in usual care, perhaps because FTDCs allow parents more time to achieve sobriety than the traditional justice system6, 8. In other circumstances, children whose parents are participating in FTDCs move more quickly toward permanency than children whose parents are not1, 7.

In a Baltimore-based study, a FTDC yielded $5,500 of savings per family by reducing foster care use and increasing family reunification14.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

In 2015, there are more than 300 family treatment drug courts operating in the United States15.

Implementation Resources

NCSACW-FTDCs - National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW). Family treatment drug courts (FTDCs).


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1 Green 2007 - Green BL, Furrer C, Worcel S, Burrus S, Finigan MW. How effective are family treatment drug courts? Outcomes from a four-site national study. Child Maltreatment. 2007;12(1):43-59.

2 Gifford 2014 - Gifford EJ, Eldred LM, Vernerey A, Sloan FA. How does family drug treatment court participation affect child welfare outcomes? Child Abuse & Neglect. 2014;38(10):1659-1670.

3 Lloyd 2015 - Lloyd MH. Family drug courts: Conceptual frameworks, empirical evidence, and implications for social work. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. 2015;96(1):49-57.

4 Marlowe 2012 - Marlowe DB, Carey SM. Research update on Family Drug Courts. Need to Know. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP); 2012.

5 van Wormer 2016 - van Wormer J, Hsieh ML. Healing families: Outcomes from a family treatment drug court. Juvenile & Family Court Journal. 2016;67(2):49-65.

6 Worcel 2008 - Worcel SD, Furrer CJ, Green BL, Burrus SWM, Finigan MW. Effects of family treatment drug courts on substance abuse and child welfare outcomes. Child Abuse Review. 2008;17(6):427-43.

7 Bruns 2012 - Bruns EJ, Pullman MD, Weathers ES, Wirschem ML, Murphy JK. Effects of a multidisciplinary family treatment drug court on child and family outcomes: Results of a quasi-experimental study. Child Maltreatment. 2012;17(3):218-30.

8 Chuang 2012 - Chuang E, Moore K, Barrett B, Young MS. Effect of an integrated family dependency treatment court on child welfare reunification, time to permanency and re-entry rates. Children and Youth Services Review. 2012;34(9):1896-1902.

9 Rodi 2015 - Rodi MS, Killian CM, Breitenbucher P, et al. New approaches for working with children and families involved in family treatment drug courts: Findings from the Children Affected by Methamphetamine Program. Child Welfare. 2015;94(4):205-232.

10 Cosden 2015 - Cosden M, Koch LM. Changes in adult, child, and family functioning among participants in a family treatment drug court. Child Welfare. 2015;94(5):89-106.

11 Drabble 2016 - Drabble LA, Haun LL, Kushins H, Cohen E. Measuring client satisfaction and engagement: The role of a mentor parent program in family drug treatment court. Juvenile & Family Court Journal. 2016;67(1):19-32.

12 Child 2015 - Child H, McIntyre D. Examining the relationships between family drug court program compliance and child welfare outcomes. Child Welfare. 2015;94(5):67-87.

13 Oliveros 2011 - Oliveros A, Kaufman J. Addressing substance abuse treatment needs of parents involved with the child welfare system. Child Welfare. 2011;90(1):25–41.

14 Burrus 2011 - Burrus SWM, Mackin JR, Finigan MW. Show me the money: Child welfare cost savings of a family drug court. Juvenile and Family Court Journal. 2011;62(3):1-14.

15 OJJDP-FDC guidelines - Children and Families Futures. Guidance to States: Recommendations for developing family drug court (FDC) guidelines. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Office of Justice Programs; 2015.