Plans have been agreed to revive support for a pioneering court system designed to help prevent the children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol from being taken into care.
The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) National Unit was forced to close late last year due to a lack of Government funding.
However, a group of private backers and philanthropists have pledged more than £280,000 to fund a new national partnership in order to support and extend the FDAC model across the family justice system.
This partnership includes the Centre for Justice Innovation - which will host and direct the national team - and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and RyanTunnardBrown, a consultancy specialising in social policy, law and education, both of whom have been critical to the continued growth of FDACs over the last decade.
Phil Bowen, Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, has described the outcome as a milestone for families across the country.
“There is no dispute about the value of the work undertaken by the FDACs since they were first established. They get to the root of difficulties faced by parents struggling with substance misuse using a therapeutic, problem-solving approach, giving vulnerable children a better start in life, keeping families together and saving taxpayer money.
“The FDAC National Unit was instrumental in growing the FDAC network from one pilot court in London to 13 such courts across the UK during a decade in which the number of applications to the family courts for care proceedings actually doubled.
“We now have the means to reinvigorate efforts to spread the benefits of the model far wider and to work with others in both national and local government as well as in the judiciary to secure additional funding and support for FDACs to carry out their work well into the future.”
The FDAC network has been built on the success of the first such court, which was set up with cross-government funding in 2008 by the late District Judge Nicholas Crichton.
FDAC involves a team of social workers, psychiatrists or psychologists, substance misuse specialists and domestic violence experts working closely with the FDAC Judge, parents and relevant services.
FDAC cases are dealt with in care proceedings but, in addition to the usual court hearings, the parents involved meet the same judge every two weeks to track their progress.
Independent academic research has found that mothers dealt with by the FDACs are 53 per cent more likely to have stopped their substance abuse and 48 per cent more likely to be reunited with their children than those going through ordinary care proceedings.
In addition, a major review of the care system, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and published last June, recommended that the Department of Education and the Ministry of Justice learn lessons from the FDAC model of care proceedings to help alleviate what it described as “a crisis” in children’s social care and the family justice sector.
The former FDAC National Unit was established in 2015 to develop the FDAC network through support, training and research. It closed down in September after the Department for Education stated that no further national funding would be made available.
In response, a fundraising campaign was launched by the co-founders of Hall Brown Family Law following a meeting with Judge Crichton and the Earl of Listowel, who is one of the FDACs’ most prominent parliamentary advocates.
It was subsequently backed by LCM Wealth, which advises high net worth families; family law firm Family Law in Partnership; and AddCounsel, a provider of bespoke behavioural health programmes.
Together with other anonymous supporters and the Hadley Trust, they have agreed to cover the costs of an initial six-month test period starting in April and – if the trial is successful - the part-funding of the new partnership’s first four full years of operation.
Mr Bowen said that the Centre was spearheading the push to secure further sources of funding both for the partnership and the wider FDAC network.
He added that the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust staff will contribute to the training of new FDAC teams and judges as well as providing advice on the setting up of new FDACs.
Mr Bowen outlined how RyanTunnardBrown’s experience in helping formulate the original FDAC structure and their involvement in rolling out the model in recent years means that they are “uniquely placed” to support the new partnership.
Furthermore, he suggested that the putting in place a new national leadership for FDACs was a suitable tribute to the work of Judge Crichton, who died of cancer shortly before Christmas.
“I hope that Nick would be delighted that a partnership has been put in place which is dedicated to strengthening the approach which he championed for so long.
“During the course of the last seven months of discussions about how best to safeguard its future, he and all the Unit’s supporters remained convinced of its national importance.
“Even though ministers were unable to provide funding in the summer, we appreciate the previous role of Government in fostering the growth of the FDAC network and remain hopeful that they will be able to contribute to their continued growth once more.”