Editor’s note: This piece originally was published June 26, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.
By David Heitz
For some unfortunate addicts, rock bottom doesn’t come until they’re six feet under.
But for many, it comes when they lose what’s most important to them. Usually that’s not the car, or even the house. Often, rock bottom comes when someone loses their partner or spouse, or worse, their child.
“Tough Love” is a POV documentary about two parents fighting to regain custody of their children from Child Protective Services. One is the story of Hannah Siddique, a mother in New York City. The other, Patrick Brown, is a single dad in Seattle.
You can find out how to watch the movie, which aired on PBS as a POV documentary when this column originally was written, by clicking here.
Jill Murphy is a program supervisor for the King County Superior Court Family Treatment Program. Patrick joined the program April 21, 2011, after losing custody of his daughter Natalya. Patrick, a crystal meth addict, had his little girl taken from him after falling back into meth after four years of sobriety.
Patrick initially had turned in Natalya’s mother to Child Protective Services. He felt his daughter wasn’t being properly cared for. But then he relapsed himself, got arrested, and lost custody after he had won it back from the mother.
“You have to learn to manage your disease,” Murphy told Healthline. “There are going to be rough spots.”
For many, life and death when choosing addiction or recovery is a matter of timing. The same goes for what’s saved and what’s lost.
“Addiction can be insidious. You can lose so much of your life in such a quick period of time and not even realize it,” Murphy said.
In King County, Family Treatment Court is reserved for the most serious of addicts.
The road to getting Natalya back is at times heartbreaking for Patrick, and for the people in the film who are helping him do so. Just as things seem to be going right, word gets out that Patrick had imbibed again. The reason? Waking up and not being able to see his little girl on a holiday. It was just too much, he said, and he blew the rent money on “filet mignon and chardonnay.”
At times Patrick looks pretty rough, not so much in the scenes where he’s with Natalya, but in court. A couple of times, he almost seems doomed. The judge suggests he’s “self-sabotaging.”
The viewer is left riding a roller coaster as to feelings of whether Patrick should get Natalya back. The foster family no doubt loves her, and appear to be wonderful parents. The foster father even resembles Patrick physically.
In one poignant scene, Patrick’s lawyer reminds those holding Patrick’s fate – and indeed, Natalya’s – of the law. She points out that in no way has Patrick endangered Natalya. She suggests he is being held to a level of perfection that is not realistic for any parent.
Family Treatment Court is a voluntary program. Addicts are given a strong support network that includes an advocate, an attorney and other support. The subjects are tested for drugs and alcohol every two weeks.
“Parents in the system are able to have extra help,” Murphy said. “They enter treatment faster.”
The program’s success rate is about 60 percent.
The other parent in the film – Hannah – doesn’t have any apparent problems such as addiction. While she and her husband struggle financially, there never seems to be much doubt about whether Hannah and her husband can parent.
Hannah had lost her children several years’ prior at the age of 19. After removing the children from a verbally abusive father, she moved in with her mother. But at her young age, she would go out and leave the children alone with grandma. So she lost them.
In the film, she finds herself pregnant, with the system potentially threatening to take that baby as well. The hoops she must jump through offer a view of the New York City system that is in stark contrast to the King County system, which seems to go above and beyond to reunite Patrick and Natalya.
At times, it seems contributions by the father of the unborn child aren’t even taken into consideration.
Wang-Breal hopes her film underscores the importance of child welfare reform. “If you look at the way federal financing comes, the majority of funding is geared toward foster care and adoption. What if we had given these families preventive services? Child welfare reform is about trying to change the way federal financing works so that we can keep families together.”