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Family Drug and Alcohol Court: an introduction

Date:20 DEC 2016
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Sophie Kershaw and Mike Shaw, Co-Directors of the FDAC National Unit
Mary Ryan, RyanTunnardBrown and FDAC National Unit

This is the first of a new blog in Family Law that will be coming from the FDAC National Unit staff, partners and from local FDAC multi-disciplinary teams and FDAC Judges. We hope that our blogs will provide you with information about new FDACs and developments in the FDAC model, and about the issues raised from the research into FDAC. We are delighted to have an opportunity to raise these issues with a wider audience and look forward to getting your feedback.

Just a quick recap – FDAC started as a pilot in London in January 2008, pioneered by well-known retired District Judge Nicholas Crichton. FDAC has been running ever since in London, and has slowly started spreading around England. Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) offer an alternative approach to ordinary care proceedings. The FDAC judge holds fortnightly court reviews with parents, in addition to the usual court hearings with lawyers present. A specialist multi-disciplinary FDAC team works closely with the judge and other professionals to provide intensive treatment and support for parents wishing to turn their lives around. The principles underpinning FDAC are shared with other problem-solving courts and there is a firm focus on working positively with parents. The independent evaluation of FDAC carried out by Brunel University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation found that FDAC was more successful than ordinary proceedings in helping parents achieve abstinence from drugs and alcohol and thus enabled more children to be reunified with their parents.

More recently, two further studies by teams at Lancaster and Brunel Universities have provided positive evidence about FDAC. The first of these followed up all the FDAC and comparison cases included in the first evaluation with the addition of 50 further FDAC cases. The researchers found that 5 years after the end of the care proceedings FDAC mothers who had been reunited with their children were significantly less likely to have gone back to misuse of drugs and alcohol and that reunified FDAC families were less likely to experience disruption following the end of proceedings. The second study observed practice in 10 FDACs around the country and found that the problem-solving FDAC approach is being followed in all new FDACs, that the model in terms of court process is replicable and that judges are enthusiastic about the approach. The research findings can be accessed on the website of the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University.

We are delighted that the research is showing that FDAC has a lasting effect on families where substance misuse problems are at the heart of their difficulties. We are hopeful that this will encourage more areas to think about setting up their own FDACs. This is where the FDAC National Unit is there to help.

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We are delighted that the research is showing that FDAC has a lasting effect on families where substance misuse problems are at the heart of their difficulties.  We are hopeful that this will encourage more areas to think about setting up their own FDACs.   This is where the FDAC National Unit is there to help.

The FDAC National Unit was set up in April 2015 to extend the benefits of the FDAC approach to more children and families by supporting the growth of new FDACs. Funding for the unit in the first year was from the Department for Education Innovation Programme and funding for this year has come from the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice.  The lead organisation in the FDAC National Unit is the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the other partners are Coram, Centre for Justice Innovation, RyanTunnardBrown and Lancaster University.  We are the co-directors of the Unit and with our small staff based in London and with our partners we support the development of new sites in different parts of England.  There are now 13 FDAC teams, linked to 16 courts and 21 local authorities.  The longest running FDAC,  based at the Central London Family Court, has been in operation for over 8 years while the newest FDAC has been operating for 9 months. 

One aim of the National Unit is to support new FDACs to work in a way that is as close as possible to the approach of the original central London FDAC.  This is the approach that was evaluated and found to have promising outcomes and if new areas can operate in a similar way it is more likely that the same improved outcomes could be achieved. Another aim is to build the evidence base for FDAC and this will include increasing the numbers of families who have experienced the model to see whether improved outcomes are sustained, as well as testing how easy or otherwise it is to get the model up and running in different cities and in rural areas, or across an amalgamation of different local authorities.  

In order to achieve these aims the National Unit have developed standards for FDACs, based on the principles of problem solving courts and the essential elements of FDAC identified through the evaluation.  In addition a set of data tools and a data base has been developed for all FDACs to use, based on the tools and analysis approach of the original evaluation and the subsequent follow-up study.  Sites receive 4 days on training before launching and this training is for teams and the local FDAC Judges together  and teams and judges receive refresher training once up and running.   Further training is provided on use of the data base . All sites are asked to obtain consent from parents to share their data, which will be anonymised before sending, with the National Unit.  This will enable the National Unit to start the process of developing the evidence base. 

The National Unit also provides regular opportunities for local FDAC teams and local FDAC Judges to network and share information and learning and we receive very positive feedback about this.  In October this year we held a national networking day for all the teams around England to come together, give a brief presentation about their work and to discuss a range of issues. It was an inspirational day to have so many practitioners come together and to be so positive about their work and about the approach.  The work of the National Unit and news from the FDAC sites is available on our website www.fdac.org.

Over the next few months we plan to write blogs on the following topics:
  • FDAC - a trauma informed service
  • Picking the right cases for FDAC - is it possible?
  • Are there benefits to starting FDAC in pre proceedings?
  • The FDAC non-lawyer reviews – what brings about problem solving?
  • Sustainability challenges for FDAC - who should pay?
  • Should LAs invest in post-proceedings support in FDAC?
  • What other problems could the FDAC model solve?

The work of the National Unit and news from the FDAC sites is available at www.fdac.org.

You can follow the FDAC National Unit on Twitter @FDAC_NU