Pubdate: Wed, 21 Dec 2005
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2005 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Angela Harley didn't think she had a problem with alcohol until a 
night on the town cost her custody of her two small children.

In September 2004, the North Charleston woman was accused of leaving 
her 10-month-old daughter in the car while she drank for hours inside 
a Folly Beach bar. She stewed in jail for 45 days, her case splashed 
about in the local media, while her estranged husband Kevin cared for 
the infant and their young son.

Then the other shoe dropped: Kevin lost custody of the children as 
well after testing positive for alcohol, cocaine and marijuana during 
a court-ordered drug test.

"I thought my life was completely over, but it was really just 
starting," Angela Harley, 35, said Tuesday.

Just more than a year later, the Harleys are sober, reunited as a 
couple and devoted to caring for their 2-year-old daughter Victoria 
and their son Michael, 4.

The couple say they owe much of their success to Charleston County's 
Family Recovery Court, which works to reunite families torn apart by 
drug and alcohol abuse.

On Tuesday, they arrived in court thinking it was just another 
session. But it was much more.

After they briefed Family Court Judge Paul Garfinkel on their 
progress and their recent move to a new home, he leaned across the 
bench and smiled. "We all think

you are doing so well that I have just one thing to say: Today is 
graduation day," he said.

With their children in their laps, the Harleys leaned over and hugged 
each other tightly as the courtroom audience burst into applause. 
After 12 months of intensive counseling and rehabilitation, they were 
officially a family once again.

Minutes later, Santa Claus appeared, showering the children in the 
courtroom with gifts. Their parents smiled as Victoria proudly held 
up a Dora the Explorer learning pad and Michael showed off a Batman 
utility belt, two of several gifts they received.

"The Harleys worked so hard, and they have come such a long way," 
Garfinkel said after the proceeding. "When they started out, they 
were at the bottom of their lives. But they have done everything we 
have asked of them, and they never complained."

The three-year-old court, which runs largely on donations, works to 
find permanent homes for young children who land in foster care as a 
result of abuse or neglect allegations against their 
substance-abusing parents. Their parents receive legal help and 
assistance from social workers, and they must undergo a rigorous 
program of drug counseling, testing and rehabilitation while 
reporting in regularly with the court. If they succeed, they get 
their children back. If not, the judge recommends that parental 
rights be terminated.

Eight parents have graduated from the program, which usually takes 12 
to 18 months to complete, and more than 90 children have been placed 
in permanent homes, said court coordinator Mardi Lempek. Seven 
parents and 15 children remain in the program.

"This program saved my life. I know that," said Kevin Harley, 36, a 
fence installer by trade.

Harley said he began drinking at age 13 and later became a daily 
alcohol abuser, often stopping at the package store as soon as it 
opened in the morning. His wife considered herself more of a weekend 
drinker, but now sees she had a problem as well.

Angela Harley still maintains that she had no more than two drinks 
the night she was stopped on Folly Beach, and she denies leaving her 
daughter in the car unattended. In fact, the neglect charge she had 
faced recently was dropped by prosecutors. But she knows it was wrong 
to have her daughter with her on a bar visit after midnight and she 
doesn't fault the authorities for being concerned, she said.

In the end, the couple said, the episode helped spark a change that 
has made their lives richer beyond measure.

"It's a totally different lifestyle now," Kevin Harley said. "I live 
each day to get up and be with my family. Nothing else matters."
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