Amelia Knisely Published

Nicholas County Program Celebrates Parents' Sobriety, Reunification With Their Kids

Summersville resident Ally Carpenter.jpg

The courtroom in Nicholas County was packed Thursday as 10 parents graduated from the county’s Family Treatment Court program.

Large, framed portraits of the graduates and their respective families lined the front of the courthouse — the parents’ and kids’ smiles on display to show the room that their families were now whole.

Family Treatment Court is an innovative program that reunifies families amid the state’s foster care crisis and drug epidemic, two problems that are interwoven in West Virginia.

Under the program, parents who have completed substance use disorder treatment, and other requirements, are reunited with their children after being involved in the child welfare system.

“It’s kind of the people who have that drug problem and come into these cases and make that admission, ‘Hey this is something that is not right, and I need to improve on it,’” said Stephanie Smith, family treatment court case coordinator. She said meth has been the most common drug in the county.

“They also have to be willing — that’s kind of the biggest part,” she added.

Nicholas County is the fifth county in the state selected by the state Supreme Court of Appeals to run a grant-funded Family Treatment Court Program.

Nearly 30 people are involved in running the program, including child protective services workers and employees from the local school system.

One of the program’s goals is to minimize the time kids spend in foster care as West Virginia has the highest rate in the country of kids coming into foster care.

Twenty children were reunified with their parents following Thursday’s graduation, and many of the kids were in the courtroom for the ceremony.

Summersville resident Ally Carpenter, 27, has been drug and alcohol free for 275 days with the program. After finding housing and a job, and completing the program’s other requirements, she was reunited with her 11-month-old son and graduated from Family Treatment Court.

Everyone here was willing to work with you one on one and whatever it took to get your child back quicker,” Carpenter said. “It’s really done a lot of good and put a lot of children back in the homes of parents who wanted them.”

Judge Stephen Callaghan fought to bring the program to his county and, since its launch in 2020, it now has 39 graduates and has reunited 63 children with their parents.

“We do it because of what you just saw in the courtroom. I’m proud to say that we’re one county and one judge, and at times this fall, we’ve had the largest family treatment court in the state,” Callaghan said.

Former graduates attended the ceremony, cheering as men and women received their certificates. Callaghan explained that it’s a community-wide effort to run the program, including finding housing, furniture, treatment and jobs for participants. Smith noted that finding housing is often the biggest barrier in the rural county.

A local business owner who has employed several of the program participants attended the graduation, and Callaghan said the tight-knit community is more than willing to give.

“It’s so easy to get people involved because all you have to do is say, ‘Do you want to help people and families affected by drugs?’ Who would say no to that?” he said.

Carpenter had a big smile as she held her son in the courtroom during her graduation. She said the program has provided her with good friends and an ongoing support system as she begins community college next month.

“I’m going to be a vet tech and then eventually hopefully become a vet,” she said.