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Alcohol monitoring makes a difference in child protection cases

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By Peter Marshall

Parents, agencies and lawyers involved in child protection cases are discovering a new tool for addressing allegations of alcohol abuse by a parent – continuous alcohol monitoring using the SCRAMx® ankle bracelet.

Developed for use in the criminal justice system, primarily in programs aimed at repeat impaired drivers, it tests for alcohol every 30 minutes, providing timely, comprehensive, and objective information – a rare and critical commodity for clinical and legal decision-makers.

If alcohol-related concerns are unfounded, SCRAMx® lets the parent prove it more quickly and convincingly than is possible through urine testing, hair testing, or self-reports. SCRAMx® can also help in a number of ways when parents acknowledge an alcohol problem or when they deny it and risk management measures are needed until the issue is resolved.

Here are some examples of how putting alcohol monitoring in place has made a difference in actual Ontario child protection cases:

  • Children not apprehended;
  • Overnight access reinstated;
  • Access changed from supervised to unsupervised;
  • A father who had been required to leave the home after an incident of domestic violence was permitted to resume living with the family;
  • Alcohol abuse was eliminated as an issue of concern, allowing clinical work and litigation to focus on other issues;
  • Alcohol abuse was confirmed as a concern and the parent agreed to attend treatment;
  • A mother was permitted to resume breastfeeding;
  • After the CAS agreed that monitoring was no longer required, the parent requested resumption of monitoring to assist her with relapse prevention.

Although many parents and child protection professionals immediately perceive monitoring’s constructive uses, some have a negative first reaction due to connotations they perceive in the use of an ankle bracelet as stigmatizing and/or overly intrusive. Dialogue and further reflection help overcome these concerns. When used to create an alternative to children being removed from a parent’s care, supervised access, twice-a-week observed urine screens, or protracted litigation, it becomes plain to most that monitoring is the least stigmatizing and intrusive of those choices.

In Canada, alcohol monitoring with SCRAMx® is provided by Recovery Science Corporation (RSC), which also provides alcohol monitoring, GPS and electronic monitoring in criminal cases. Our staff includes me, a lawyer, and Winnie Tan, a social worker, both with extensive experience in child protection. That experience lets us bring more to the table than just a new piece of technology – we can help create case-specific monitoring plans that make sense to everyone involved.

Since introducing SCRAMx® to Canada in 2010, RSC has provided monitoring for 20+ people in child protection cases in Toronto, York, Simcoe, Dufferin, Kawartha-Haliburton and Muskoka.

RSC welcomes inquiries from parents, workers, and their lawyers about how its alcohol monitoring can help in specific cases. Winnie and I are available to provide no-cost, CLE-eligible presentations at your firm, agency or local law association.