In the same week as we saw the launch of the Care Crisis Review, undertaken by the Family Rights Group with the support of the Nuffield Foundation, came the news that the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) National Unit has had to withdraw its application for funding to the Life Chances Fund because of lack of support from local authorities and that the National Unit would be closing in September because of the lack of continuing funding from central Government. This is grim news, not least at a time when, as both I and my designated successor made clear at the launch, the care system is in crisis.
FDAC is the most researched of the recent innovations in family justice. Rigorous, high quality academic evaluation, conducted by Professor Judith Harwin, has proved, conclusively, that FDAC works. As Professor Harwin’s evaluation has demonstrated, more children are reunified with parents if the case has gone through FDAC than through the normal family court, and there is significantly less subsequent breakdown. Similarly rigorous independent evaluation proves that FDAC saves the local authorities who participate significant sums of money: £2.30 for every £1 spent.
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FDAC is one of the most important developments in family justice in the last 40 years. It has grown from a single pilot in London to a service which is now available in many, though still not nearly enough, parts of the country. FDAC, like PAUSE, should be available to all parents facing the frightening prospect of losing their children to the care system and it is vital that both FDAC and PAUSE continue to be funded on a sustainable basis. FDAC and PAUSE are not alternatives; the one is not a substitute for the other. FDAC and PAUSE are complementary; we need them both. My ambition, as I have frequently said, is that every family in every part of the country should have access, depending on their circumstances, to either FDAC or PAUSE – something that too many at present are denied because of a postcode lottery.
The continued expansion of FDAC is critically dependent upon the work of the National Unit, whose invaluable work, as midwife and then as health visitor, is so important in the planning, implementation and nurturing of each new FDAC.
FDAC improves the life chances of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised parents and children in our society: it increases the sum of human happiness and decreases the sum of human misery – and it saves the system money.
While I very much hope that this latest development will not prejudice the continuing viability of the established FDACs, this profoundly disturbing news must be of immense concern to everyone who, like me, is passionate about the need to improve our family justice system for the benefit of the families, children and parents we serve. For those families and parents, unable at present to access FDAC, and who were anticipating the possible early arrival of an FDAC in their area, the outlook is bleak in the extreme. They surely deserve better of us.
What this demonstrates is, dare it be said, a failure of imagination, of vision and of commitment by Government, national and local.
The Minister recently visited a settlement conference court. The visit, I would imagine, was valuable and informative. Would it not be possible for time to be found in the Minister’s no doubt busy diary for a Ministerial visit to an FDAC? This article appears in the July 2018 issue of Family Law.