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Zahra Pabani
Zahra Pabani
Partner - Family Law
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Family Drug and Alcohol Court pilot successful
Date:19 MAY 2011

Scales of justiceThe only Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in the UK has been successful in improving outcomes for children by tackling the substance misuse of parents at an early stage of care proceedings, according to an independent evaluation of the court.

The pilot, which operated in four London boroughs (Islington, Camden, Westminster, and Hammersmith & Fulham), revealed that parents who had been through the FDAC system were more likely to stop their substance misuse than those in ordinary care proceedings, meaning fewer children were taken into care. In addition, when parents were unable to control their substance misuse, FDAC made swifter decisions to find permanent alternative homes for children. The researchers also found that the integrated approach also has potential to reduce costs.

The Munro Review of Child Protection was ‘impressed' by the pilot and used it as an example of how multi-disciplinary teams can provide effective interventions for vulnerable children. This reiterates the findings from the Family Justice Review interim report, which said FDAC showed ‘considerable promise' and ‘potentially justifies a further limited roll out'. The Family Justice Review, led by David Norgrove, also emphasises the importance of judicial continuity - having the same judge follow a family through all stages of proceedings - a unique and important feature of FDAC.

The court is based on a successful US model where specialist drug and alcohol courts have enabled more children in care to return home because their parents have engaged with substance misuse services. Two thirds of all care proceedings in the boroughs involve parental substance misuse causing harm to children. Unlike conventional care proceedings, parents in FDAC see the same judge throughout and meet with them every fortnight. They also receive support from a multi-disciplinary team, including fast access to substance misuse services and assistance with other issues such as housing, domestic violence and financial hardship.

The independent evaluation team, led by Professor Judith Harwin at Brunel University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office, found that FDAC has been more successful at controlling substance misuse and reuniting families than ordinary proceedings. At the time of the final court order, 39% of FDAC mothers were reunited with their children compared to 21% of mothers from a comparison group in ordinary care proceedings. All but two parents said they were in favour of the FDAC approach.

"We are delighted that both the Munro Review and the Family Justice Review have recognised the early success of FDAC in breaking the cycle of harm caused to families by substance misuse and we hope the government takes heed of the recommendation to consider rolling out the model further", said Professor Judith Harwin.

District Judge Nick Crichton said: "This evaluation shows that swift access to integrated support services helps parents control their substance misuse and be reunited with their children. Where parents are unable to address their substance misuse, FDAC's intervention helps to secure an earlier alternative permanent home for children. All the evidence so far suggests that extending this pilot and rolling out FDAC in other areas would be in the best interests of children and families." 

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