The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 9, 2009

Special court aimed at families

First 'graduate' goes through Family Dependency Court.

MANKATO — Alcohol was flowing, words were flying and things turned violent that night in May, 2008.

Things followed their usual path after that. Police officers arrived, Michael Bakke was arrested and Wendy Lowe, the mother of Bakke’s 8-year-old daughter, Morgan, was told Blue Earth County social workers would be notified about the domestic disturbance.

It had all happened before, usually to a lesser extent, but something the couple wasn’t prepared for came with a jolt the next day. Morgan and her brothers, 12-year-old Dylan and 14-year-old Colton, were removed from their Mankato home and placed in foster care.

“It was pretty devastating for both of us and it was hard for all three kids,” Bakke said. “But was the worst for Morgan. She didn’t understand what was going on.”

This time, it wasn’t as easy for the couple to open a bottle of booze and bury their problems by guzzling down a few thickly poured drinks. Had Bakke and Lowe taken that route, chances are they still wouldn’t be with their kids.

Instead, Bakke decided to participate in one of Blue Earth County’s newest problem solving courts. He became the first graduate of Family Dependency Court this week, officially closing his child in protective services case and regaining full custody of Morgan.

Kathy Kopka, his social worker for the court, said she was hoping Bakke’s graduation would close a long history with social services. Then she highlighted some numbers as Bakke waited to receive his plaque from District Court Judge Kurt Johnson.

Bakke had received clean readings on 51 drug and alcohol tests since starting as one of the court’s first members about nine months earlier, Kopka said. He’d attended more than 80 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. There had been 135 conversations between Bakke and Kopka discussing his parenting skills and other issues.

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