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More to benefit from specialist family drug and alcohol courts

Date:18 FEB 2015
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Journals Manager + Online Editor
The Department of Education (DfE) has announced that an estimated £2.5 million of funding is available to develop a National Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) Development Unit and to nurture new courts across the country.

The national FDAC unit will be based at Coram Campus, where FDAC London is currently located, and will be led by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, supported by partner organisations, Brunel University LondonCentre for Justice InnovationCoramManchester University and RyanTunnardBrown. Comprised of practitioners, policy makers and researchers, the national unit will be dedicated to nurturing new specialist drug and alcohol courts across the country.

It is expected to support a potential eight new sites in the first year that tackle the widespread problem of parental substance misuse in care proceedings, with Kent and Medway; Coventry; Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter, Leeds and West Yorkshire all committed to opening FDACs in the financial year 2015/16. The learning and implementation of FDAC will continue nationally and the model will be tested and evaluated at every FDAC site across the country.

The national roll out of the pioneering court responds to President Munby’s call for
increased provision of this 'vital' service across England and paves a way to respond to an increasing demand from local authorities and the judiciary across the country.

This interest will take the learning around FDAC further: to test and evaluate the FDAC
model in new regions, with new populations, and as a possible solution to new problems. This rollout will enable FDAC to extend knowledge about how to avoid and reverse the negative impact on children of a parent’s alcohol, drug and related problems.

Judith Harwin, Professor of Social Work and Director of the Centre for Child and Youth Research at Brunel University London, led the five-year evaluation of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in England.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office, the evaluation found that the new approach to care proceedings was more likely than ordinary proceedings to help parents stop misusing and be reunited with their children.

The research found that in 35% of cases, FDAC mothers stopped misusing and were reunited with their mothers, compared to 19% who had been through ordinary care proceedings.

Rates of fresh neglect or abuse in the first year following reunification were also lower among FDAC families than those who had gone through ordinary care proceedings.

Profesor Harwin, who will be carrying out research within the National FDAC Development Unit, said:

'Our independent evaluation found that FDAC is effective in helping to break the cycle of harm caused by parental substance abuse. This approach helps reduce the number of children taken into care and enables more families to stay together.

The evidence provides compelling support for rolling out FDAC more widely. Thanks to the DfE, there is now a significant opportunity to research the sustainability of FDAC over the longer term. This is a brilliant example of how research, policy and service development are working together to intercept the corrosive cycle of parental substance misuse.'
Assessment of Parents within Care Proceedings
Assessment of Parents within Care Proceedings
This new title considers the law and practice in...
Brunel’s independent evaluation team found that FDAC families had a higher rate of stopping substance abuse than people who had been through normal care proceedings, with 40% of mothers stopping, compared to 25%.

Dr Broadhurst, from the University’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, who will also be part of the new a National FDAC Development Unit, has a special interest in cases where the same parents lose successive infants through care proceedings. She said:

'We need to be attentive to the impact of the court process on parents as well as children – timely decisions about permanence for children are absolutely vital, but we must at the same time consider the healing potential of the court for parents who can otherwise be locked in a pattern of repeat care proceedings.

The FDAC model is a therapeutic approach that has shown it can deliver very promising results for the whole family (whether children are returned to parents’ care or not) and its wider roll out is a hugely important step forward.'
The work of the national Unit links closely with Karen’s other research projects which include ongoing work funded by the Nuffield Foundation to profile the repeat clients of the family court in England. This work was reported in an invited four-part series last year in Family Law.

Children and Family Minister, Edward Timpson, who spent 10 years as a family
barrister, said:

'I know from my years at the Bar that when it comes to supporting our most
vulnerable and troubled families, there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. Families
need tailored and personalised support to help them stay together and thrive.

Since 2008, the Family Drug and Alcohol Court has thrown an invaluable lifeline
to hundreds upon hundreds of families, helping parents shut the door on
destructive behaviour and making sure everyone is working towards the best
possible outcome for the child – a safe and stable family.

Extending the Court’s work further will deliver real, life-changing results for
families across the country and I look forward to seeing how the scheme
develops over the coming months.'
District Judge Nick Crichton whose vision led to the setting up of FDAC in the country,

'FDAC is a problem solving court. In the FDAC, we have seen some parents
demonstrate a remarkable capacity to change in response to our more
constructive, empathetic approach.'
Resolution Chair, Jo Edwards, welcomed the rollout of FDACs, saying:

'The results of the pilot FDAC speak for themselves – even more so when you hear the human stories. And there are demonstrable savings to the public purse – over the life of a case the cost of FDAC is £8,740 per family. This sounds like a lot, but when you consider that care placements cost £4,000 per child, together with the costs to local authorities of ordinary care cases, it’s a financial no-brainer.

But this is about much more than saving money – it’s about working towards a solution that breaks the vicious cycle of addiction, and ultimately reunites children with their parents. You can’t put a price on that.

Of course, we want this to go even further. These courts will only sit once a week and hear a relatively small number of cases. The London FDAC, for example, only hears around 30 cases a year, so clearly there’s a need to do more on this front.

We also note that the funding announced today is only for one year, and we want to see these courts there for the long haul and become an integral part of our family justice system.

But today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction.'
Brunel Universities Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) - Evaluation Research Study is available to download here. 

See also District Judge Julie Exton's Family Law article, 'Gloucestershire Family Drug and Alcohol Court – 20 months on'.