Massachusetts is offering a new path forward in Juvenile Court for parents with substance use issues. It’s an option that, as of Wednesday, will be widely available across Massachusetts, and offers a more collaborative court model when kids are at risk of entering state custody, or already have.

“We all know a devastation that was caused by mental illness and substance use disorders in our communities,” said Trial Court Administrator Thomas G. Ambrosino. “We have an obligation as a court system to be able to assist those people, to treat them in a way that’s compassionate.”

The program’s main goals are to help parents find the necessary services and treatment to reach recovery, as well as ensure that children have safe, permanent homes.

For Juvenile Court cases, PATHS Family Treatment Courts are collaborative court sessions with the state Department of Children and Families, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and substance use and mental health treatment professionals.

“The priorities are treating children as children and treating parents as parents,” said Alexis Balkey, a program director for the Center for Children and Family Futures. “Opening up opportunities for system-involved youth, so we can prevent them from coming back into the system and making sure we’re doing everything, when it’s in our control to do so, to keep children in the home.”

Family treatment courts are more effective at getting people the treatment that they need and retaining them in treatment, according to research cited by the center.

It also cites a meta-analysis that found that families who participated in family treatment court were twice as likely to reunify than families receiving conventional services.

The state’s first family treatment court session opened as a pilot program at the Franklin County Probate and Family Court in Greenfield in 2016.

In Hampden County, Springfield’s juvenile court was the first to offer Prevention and Treatment for the Health and Stability of Children and Families (PATHS) family treatment court sessions in December.

Balkey said that Massachusetts received a grant in 2021 to start this work. She pointed to national estimates about substance abuse that show 21.6 million children, or roughly 16% of all kids, live with a parent that is misusing substances.

“That’s about three to four children in every average elementary school classroom,” she said. “They are all not part of the child welfare system, but this epidemic is huge.”

Trial Court Chief Justice Heidi Brieger said it is a wonderful day not only for Massachusetts, but for all of the families and children that will benefit from the statewide program.

“It is a testament to the way the trial court responds to families and individuals who suffer from mental health issues, substance use disorders and from trauma in their lives,” she said. “It is a way that we can stake new ground on trying to help those families.”