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3 pass court's addiction program in Westmoreland County

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Three parents who have battled drug addiction have completed a special court intervention program designed to reunite them with their children.

A graduation ceremony was conducted this week to mark the successful completion of the Accelerated Permanency Treatment Program created last year by Westmoreland County Family Court Judge Chris Feliciani.

The program, which is still in its infancy, requires weekly intensive supervision of parents whose children were taken from their custody by the county Children's Bureau.

Feliciani said the ultimate goal of the program is to return the parents to sobriety and have permanent custody of the children returned to them instead of having the cases languish for years in the court system and end with parental rights being relinquished.

“These are very exciting days for the program. There is evidence that if you spend extra time with these people and focus on their addiction, there is hope,” Feliciani said.

The program's three graduates have been sober for at least four months and have attended weekly counseling sessions with volunteers and court staff, including Feliciani.

Random drug tests are administered, and participants receive rewards for success and sanctions for failures.

Grant money is used to fund the rewards. The program has received $2,000 grants from the Westmoreland County Foundation and the Westmoreland County Bar Association Foundation.

This week's graduates are in the process of regaining custody of their children.

“We've given them the tools they need to handle situations they will be found with,” Feliciani said.

There have been setbacks.

Since the program's inception early last year, 18 people have enrolled. Most have either dropped out, been discharged or failed, according to the judge.

A New Kensington woman who served as a test subject for the program in 2011 and appeared to regain her sobriety has since relapsed.

Still, Feliciani said he wants to see more people enrolled. There are two parents participating in the program, which has room for 10 people.

“We're not getting a number of referrals from the Children's Bureau,” Feliciani said.

Bureau Deputy Director Chuck McCallen said the permanency program has merits, but many of the agency's clients are not qualified to participate.

“It's not a matter of awareness. It's just the clientele we have may not be appropriate for it. A lot of our clients are not willing to make the effort it takes,” McCallen said.

Still, the judge said the program works and this week's graduates are proof that more people can benefit from the intensive supervision.

“It's been a huge success. Three more families that were torn apart are now much closer to being reunited,” Feliciani said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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