Judge Phillip Spivey

Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Juvenile Judge Philip B. Spivey said he is excited about his new role as judge of the relatively new Baldwin County Family Dependency Treatment Court.

Spivey was guest speaker at Wednesday Eggs and Issues breakfast meeting held at Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) and jointly sponsored by the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce and Magnolia State Bank.

Spivey, who still oversees juvenile cases, also serves as judge of a relatively new Family Treatment Court. Jenna Wilkes, who serves as coordinator of the Family Treatment Court, accompanied the judge last week. Wilkes, a native of Augusta, is a graduate of Georgia College. She has worked for Spivey the past 11 years.

Spivey, meanwhile, is a native of Milledgeville and attended public schools in Baldwin County. He also is a graduate of Washington and Lee University and later earned his law degree from the University of Georgia Law School.

He began his affiliation with the Baldwin County Family Dependency Treatment Court in July 2013. He continues to preside over juvenile cases in several of the counties within the local judicial circuit.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to come before this distinguished group, and to share what we have been doing,” Spivey said before he recognized several local persons who have been helpful to the newly formed court. Some of those included members of the court’s advisory board, including David Luke and Lyn Chandler.

“The (Baldwin) County Commission has been very helpful with us. Baldwin County is our fiscal agent, and they have been very helpful to us by agreeing to provide all the administration for the financial end of it.”

Spivey said he was particularly grateful to Commissioners Henry Craig and John Westmoreland, as well as County Manager Ralph McMullen.

“I want to say at the outset that the Family Treatment Court has given me a purpose in life,” Spivey said. “Before we have Family Treatment Court, I was terminating parental rights of parents who were drug-addicted, entirely too much. It was demoralizing.”

The new program has given everyone a new sense of hope in reuniting those families, he pointed out.

He provided a definition and the role of the new Family Treatment Courts in Georgia.

“They were created as part of the drug court movement that actually began in the late ‘80s,” Spivey said. “This was for adult criminal cases. The first Family Court started in 1995 and today, there are more than 300 in operation.”

The programs in this particular court address substance abuse and parenting within the state child welfare system, he said.

“Drug addiction typically leads to abuse, inadequate supervision of children, and results in the removal of them from the home,” Spivey added. “A substantial number of children in foster care are there today primarily due to drug and alcohol addiction.”

He said the reunification rates are not as good as they could be.

“When I say reunification, I mean reunification of the family after the children have been removed,” Spivey said. “The child welfare system is writing off too many addictive parents by failing to reunify these families.” Spivey said the traditional Georgia Department of Family and Children Services approach was to refer parents to existing treatment with little involvement in the treatment process, nor was the juvenile court involved with the treatment.

“We have learned that traditional outpatient treatment is inadequate to meet the needs of high-risk, high-need addicts,” Spivey said. “Seven out of 10 walk away from treatment within 90 days. That’s not a very good average; not a very good percentage.”

The veteran judge said the court has been terminating the parental rights of many drug-addictive parents who could have been offered the benefits of Family Treatment Court.

“This is a new approach,” Spivey said.

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