This is a complicated area because the absence of some of the selected seven variables in cases did not mean that those cases were less serious. The background characteristics and history of all the FDAC and comparison cases were compared and found to be very similar and to be serious cases, well within the threshold for care proceedings. All cases involved parents with substantial substance misuse problems and around 40% of parents in both samples had had previous children removed. It is possible that the length of family contact with children’s services and the presence of children with emotional and behavioural problems might indicate families who had engaged on and off with children’s services over time but where underlying problems had remained. It is also true that other research has indicated that it is not so much specific risk factors but cumulative risk factors that predict persistence of problems and poor treatment outcomes and these may also be cases where it is harder to establish the threshold for proceedings at an early stage.
The message that the FDAC NU has taken from this is that it is hard to predict which cases will do well in FDAC. The hope is that as FDAC teams continue to collect data on their cases it may in future be possible to identify predictors more clearly. In the meantime it is also worth bearing in mind a comment from the researchers that cases with long histories of children services involvement might benefit from entering FDAC sooner rather than later, given the combination of intensive treatment and support that is provided within the FDAC model.
Local authorities using FDAC discuss whether or not a case should be issued into FDAC at legal planning or gateway meetings which consider cases which are heading towards court proceedings. Conversations with FDAC sites indicate that local authority lawyers and senior managers are involved in this decision. In some areas the possibility of referral into FDAC is a standing agenda item, in others social workers indicate whether they think the case will be suitable for FDAC and in others there is a brief checklist of issues to consider. In the majority of areas the first criteria is the presence of parental substance misuse and other factors that may influence decisions are the length of substance misuse, parents’ experience of treatment in the past, views about parents’ capacity to change and, in some areas, other issues in the case which may benefit from the intervention of the multi-disciplinary team. In some sites there are discussions with the team about the possibility of referring the case before the proceedings are issued. In all sites choices about referring cases are also affected by the capacity of the team and the court to take on a new case at a particular point in time.
So there are a number of factors which impact on whether or not a case is referred into FDAC and there are also a number of different sorts of ‘successes’ in FDAC. This point about different types of success is important because the evidence to date is that although parents going through FDAC have a greater chance of controlling their misuse and having their children returned, the majority of parents will end up being separated from their children. The advantages of the FDAC experience will be that in many cases parents will understand court decisions better and have benefited from their experience of intensive support and regular meetings with the Judge and the team, as the quotes below illustrate:
‘FDAC supported them to acknowledge that they could not do it in time for their son [control their substance misuse] which led them to accept the plan for permanency ... if the case had not been in FDAC the usual substance misuse assessments would have been undertaken and would have probably reached the same conclusions as FDAC. But FDAC enabled the parents to reach this conclusion themselves and so to think positively about substitute care. They did not feel alienated by the court process and they continued to attend contact meetings regularly.’ (Guardian)
‘It is effective. It is how care proceedings ought to be … and if parents have all the services they need offered to them, but still cannot control their substance misuse, this helps them accept that they cannot care for their child.’ (Lawyer)
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