In Alabama, a new drug treatment bill may mean that parents who receive treatment for alcohol or drug addiction more than twice in a five year period may lose custody of their children. The bill, championed by Republican representative Wes Long, has many supporters, but some people are concerned that the bill may deter people from seeking much needed treatment for fear of having their kids taken away. Reporting on the issue for Alabama.com, Challen Stephens writes:
“…the bill had been prompted by parents in Marshall County who were hooked on meth and were able to maintain custody by repeating treatment programs….State law currently empowers courts to end parental custody in numerous instances, such as abuse, neglect, abandonment or imprisonment of the parent. Existing law also allows for termination of custody for “excessive use of alcohol or controlled substances, of a duration or nature as to render the parent unable to care for needs of the child.”….As currently filed, Long’s bill would add the following section to possible causes for termination: “The parent or parents who have excessively used alcohol or controlled substances, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, have been enrolled in, submitted to, admitted to or participated in a drug rehabilitation program…on two separate occasions within the five years immediately preceding the filing of the petition to terminate parental rights; and have again used alcohol or controlled substances thereafter.”
This language seems perhaps too broad, especially considering that Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as well as church support groups would be considered drug treatment. In response to the criticism, Representative Long has said that he will amend the bill to exclude treatment for alcoholism and instead focus on illegal drugs only. But some still oppose the bill. Clete Wetli, the chairman of the Democratic party in Alabama and a substance abuse counselor himself “…argued that legislators should instead focus on providing more treatment options.” It’s hard not to agree. If treatment becomes punitive and a cause for someone to lose their children, it is hard to imagine that those who need treatment will seek it, meaning that their children will continue to suffer.