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Probate, family court offers services to families struggling with addiction



Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

GREENFIELD — Mike Currie was standing beside a parent struggling with addiction in the Franklin Probate and Family Court who was reading a letter to the judge, and there was Currie, with a hand on the person’s back, lending moral support.

He was there as part of special pilot program that offers a range of services and counseling to families affected by addiction who find themselves in court.

“I think it’s different when there’s someone with lived experience,” said Alexa Flanders, assistant judicial case manager of the Probate and Family Court, as she explained how the situation has typically played out in the recent months since hiring Currie as a peer support specialist for the innovative program launched in the past year in Greenfield.  

Currie, who identifies as an alcoholic and has been sober for a little over 11 years, recently began working with the Franklin County Justice Center to help parents struggling with addiction and going through the court system.

At an Opioid Task Force meeting Friday, Currie and the leaders of this program recapped the initial year of the five-year, $2.1 million federal grant. 

They were feeling good about the results so far.

“What I can do for these participants is I can identify,” Currie said, “even though I’m old enough to be some of their grandfathers.”

The Franklin Probate and Family Court as of August is now fully staffed, and its leaders are looking to continue to welcome participants in the support program.

“We’re real fortunate to have this in Franklin County,” Assistant Chief Probation Officer Linda Singer, said. “Everywhere should have this.”  

The goal of the program is to help parents in recovery who are in probate court to work through their addictions, current and past, to strengthen the family and well-being of the child. 

At this point, 17 people have come through the program, which has about $420,000, on average per year. A majority of the money is intended to be used for salaries. The program is meant to serve up to 35 individuals annually, but now that all of the staff is in place, the organizers are developing further connections with community partners to find people who would be a good fit. 

The grant funding is specifically for what has been dubbed as “MISSION-Hope,” which social worker and project lead Alison Morrisey described “as an enhanced provider of services for people who have a co-occuring diagnosis of mental health and substance use.”

The program is good for people of all ages. Young people do have to go through their lawyer and be approved by a juvenile probation judge. For adults, however, there are more avenues to MISSION-Hope and the family court. People do need to be “clinically eligible,” though, which may mean they have a substance use disorder, but the organizers encourage anyone who thinks they may qualify to come into the first floor of the courthouse to the services center. 

One health care provider from central Massachusetts in attendance Friday said she wished this model was available in Worcester County.  

“We have people who come from different areas of the state or other states and they’re totally blown away,” Michael Lewis, co-chair of the Opioid Task Force’s Treatment and Recovery Committee, said at the meeting. “I like that we’re on the forefront and that our minds are open and our goal is to provide safety for everyone.” 

The program can provide services for a year, with intensive case management lasting about 12 weeks. Eventually, participants graduate through the program. Some of the individuals who have gone through it in its first year, have been sent from criminal court to complete these services in family court.

“The mission is they’ll ease off of needing intensive services and connect with the services in the community,” Morrisey said. 

At the end of the program, they work to link up the participant with any educational, vocational and medical needs in the community. The biggest hurdle continues to be finding sufficient housing, which Morrisey and Singer said they are continuing to work at. 

After all, Currie said, “We’re in the infancy of the program,” and they’re still learning what to do, and using meetings like these to gather ideas and spread information. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264