BROOKSVILLE — Kimberly Losurdo did not hesitate when the judge asked if she was sure about her guilty plea.
"You believe it's in your best interest?" Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti asked.
"Absolutely," Losurdo replied, nodding her head.
With that, the 45-year-old Spring Hill woman embarked on an effort to recover both her sobriety and the children in her care.
Losurdo entered an open guilty plea Thursday to two counts of child abuse, and her case was diverted to the county's drug court.
As part of the program, a defendant must plead guilty, then complete a rigorous program of counseling and drug screenings that lasts at least 18 months.
If successful, the case is dismissed.
The legal and personal stakes are high, Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink told Losurdo during her first appearance in drug court last week, a few days after she was released from the county jail.
"These are serious charges," Tombrink said. "There is zero tolerance. You have to make sure you do everything exactly correctly or a lot of bad things will happen."
If she fails, Losurdo faces at least two years in prison, said Assistant State Attorney Larry Houston.
Two days after Christmas, Losurdo called 911 after a 9-year-old child started convulsing and drifting in and out of consciousness, according to the Hernando Sheriff's Office.
Paramedics took the girl to a local hospital, where a blood test revealed cocaine in her system. Hospital staffers transferred the child to another hospital for more advanced care and called the state Department of Children and Families.
According to the Sheriff's Office and court records, the girl reported seeing Losurdo smoking, snorting and ingesting drugs in the house. About two days earlier, likely on Christmas, the girl found a small, rock-like substance in the bathroom and ate it.
Losurdo told investigators she smoked crack cocaine inside the residence and that the girl must have found a piece and thought it was candy. Detectives found a crack pipe in the house.
Losurdo was arrested and charged with child abuse. DCF took custody of the 9-year-old and two other children, ages 11 and 16.
To the dismay of investigators, the 11-year-old also tested positive for cocaine, though he did not fall ill or require hospitalization. The boy told investigators he found a candy-like substance on a dresser and ate it.
The Sheriff's Office added a second charge of child abuse. Because Losurdo was on probation at the time for unrelated criminal traffic charges, she was held without bond in the Hernando County Detention Center.
Forty days later, on Feb. 4, she was released on her own recognizance. A treatment team comprised of a therapist, a judge and representatives from the state attorney's and public defender's offices, among others, decided she was a candidate for drug court. The results of a clinical assessment confirmed her eligibility.
Though Losurdo has several prior arrests, none were on the kind of charges, such as crimes of violence or drug sales, that would disqualify her, said Assistant State Attorney Larry Houston.
"She has a long history of substance abuse problems, she admits that she does, and this particular offense is drug related," Houston said.
Losurdo, who declined to comment to the Times after Thursday's hearing, will be required to participate in a 12-step recovery program, get a sponsor and attend group and individual therapy.
In the meantime, a DCF caseworker develops a case plan and monitors her progress.
Because of privacy laws, officials do not release information about a defendant's relationship to the children in a case like this one, but DCF does not get involved unless the children are dependents, said spokeswoman Kristi Gray.
The three children in Losurdo's case are currently in protective custody, which can mean foster care or the care of a relative, Gray said.
"The case is evaluated all along the way with the goal to reunite the family if that's the safe and appropriate thing to do," she said.
During weekly drug court hearings, the judge reviews each defendant's case plans, drug-screening results and treatment notes. If the report is positive, the judge says "good work," and other drug court participants waiting their turn applaud.
On Thursday, Tatti told Losurdo that the DCF caseworker would determine how soon and how often she would be able to visit the children.
"I don't have any reason to believe you won't get to that point pretty quickly," Tatti said.
He wished her luck, and the gallery clapped.
Reach Tony Marrero at tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow him on Twitter @TMarreroTimes.