Gloucestershire county council, NHS Gloucestershire and Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service are setting up a Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in Gloucester as part of the new Early Years Specialist Service, and it will start to be developed in the Autumn.
The FDAC will be only the second in the UK - the other is in London set up and run by District Judge Nicholas Crichton CBE.
The new specialist service will support vulnerable children under five experiencing neglect. A team of professionals - including drug, alcohol and mental health workers, health visitors and social workers - will provide intensive, co-ordinated support to help their parents tackle their drug, alcohol and mental health issues.
Parents will get fast access to services, including therapies and detoxification, and help with housing issues, parenting, domestic violence and financial hardship. Parents could also be supported by mentors, who have turned their own lives around after experiencing substance misuse issues and had their children taken into care.
Children will also be provided with the support they need to be ready for school and do well, with fast track access to services, including speech and language therapists, and funding for early education for vulnerable two-year-olds.
Specialist drug and alcohol courts support families where parents have problems with drink and drugs. The aim is to shorten the time it takes for care proceedings to fully resolve and for children to be found a safe, permanent home - whether that is with their own relatives or an adoptive family.
Families selected for FDAC will have more regular court hearings than those going through regular care proceedings and will see the same judge throughout.
In the pilot project in London, parents liked seeing the same judge every time and getting practical and emotional support from the specialist team. The professionals and parent mentors also felt that FDAC was a better approach than ordinary care proceedings and felt it should be rolled out.
Cllr Paul McLain, Cabinet Member for Vulnerable Families, said: "The specialist service and the new Family Drug and Alcohol Court will give families struggling with drug and alcohol problems intensive support to turn themselves around.
"Parents will get help to get clean, stay clean and be better parents so that, where possible, they can care for their children. The focus will be on the family's needs, concerns and strengths with everyone working towards the best possible outcome for the children - a stable and safe home."
Parents will receive regular drug/alcohol testing by the team and, like any care proceedings, there is still the potential for children to be found permanent homes with other families. Where parents are unable to consistently stay off drugs and alcohol, the FDAC team will ensure children are moved to a more stable home quickly.
A study of the first FDAC in London tracked all cases (55 families with 77 children) that entered the FDAC in the first 18 months and compared them with ordinary care cases involving parental substance misuse heard during the same period (31 families with 49 children).
Of the 41 FDAC mothers tracked to final order, 48% were no longer misusing substances by that time (it was 39% in the comparison group) and 36% of FDAC fathers were no longer misusing substances, while no fathers in the comparison group stopped using.
Of the 41 FDAC mothers, 39% were reunited with their children by the final court order, as opposed to 21% in the comparison group.
FDAC also reduced costs through shorter care placements (£4,000 per child less), shorter court hearings and less need for legal representatives at hearings (saving local authorities £682 per family) and fewer contested cases. In addition, the specialist team carries out work equivalent to that done by experts in ordinary care cases. This saves £1200 per case.
A family can choose not to take the FDAC route and have their case heard in the usual family proceedings court.