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Rolling out FDAC: using care proceedings to help families overcome their substance misuse problems and keep their children safe

Date:15 JUL 2015
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Jo Tunnard, RyanTunnardBrown

'Imagine a child about to be born to a mother misusing substances. The mother could have treatment costing about 12K, with a 40 per cent chance of the child then able to stay with her mother. If you were being child centred you would say ‘yes’ to that [from FDAC], because it would improve the likelihood of the child staying in her family.' (Assistant Director Social Care, at FDAC national network meeting in 2014)
A national network meeting last week brought together people from 12 local authority areas to develop their plans for opening their local FDAC next year. A mix of children’s social care senior managers, family court judges and administrators, and public health officers, they spent the day with colleagues from the four established FDACs (London, Milton Keynes & Buckinghamshire, Gloucester and East Sussex), to share knowledge and best practice.

Sessions dealt with the challenges of:
  • developing and funding an independent specialist multi-disciplinary team
  • making court more family friendly
  • training clinicians and judges in the essential principles and practice of this innovative problem-solving approach to care proceedings.
FDAC springs from the US problem-solving court approach. The model was adapted for the English and Welsh legal and social care system and piloted in London boroughs from 2008.

The Brunel University 5-year independent evaluation, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that families who had been through FDAC were more successful than families whose case was heard in ordinary care proceedings. A higher proportion of FDAC parents ceased to misuse substances; more were reunited with their children at the end of proceedings; and return home was safer for the children, with fewer incidents of subsequent neglect and fewer cases returned to court. The non-adversarial way in which the case was heard in the FDAC court was welcomed by professionals and families alike, with parents having the chance to speak directly to ‘their’ judge who stayed with them throughout the case and motivated them to work on their problems. The specialist team offered families a mix of assessment and tailored interventions from themselves and local services. Parents thought FDAC gave them a fair chance of regaining care of their children, and there were fewer contested hearings when they were not able to do so.

Last year the President of the Family Division said: 'the simple reality is that FDAC works'. He heralded FDAC as 'a vital component in the new Family Court' and challenged Designated Family Judges to establish one in their area. The government’s Innovation Programme has now provided the opportunity for us – a consortium of six agencies – to establish the FDAC National Unit to work on rolling out the model nationally.

The lead agency is the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, building on its role in developing and managing the work of the London FDAC since its inception. The other partners are Coram, the Centre for Justice Innovation, RyanTunnardBrown, the Brunel University London and the University of Lancaster.

The National Unit will support those who attended the meeting last week and the many other areas at different stages of developing an FDAC. The aim is to help local areas develop FDACs with fidelity to the model, as evaluated. This involves a designated judge and court working closely with a multi-disciplinary specialist team; the involvement of key partners from the courts, children’s services, health and adult treatment services all working together on individual cases; strong governance through steering and operational groups; and careful selection of the cases referred into FDAC. Other strands of the Unit’s work are training to incorporate the lessons learnt so far from existing sites, developing the arguments for value for money and sustainable funding, and continuing evaluation of the outcomes for children and parents through using a common database to capture relevant information at the start and end of the FDAC service.

A particular focus of activity for this year is the establishment of FDAC in 11 designated local authority areas: in Coventry, Kent and Medway, the South West peninsular, and West Yorkshire. The Innovation Programme funding provides for half the cost of the specialist team in the first year, with matched funding provided locally. We will also be supporting Southampton as they launch their FDAC.

In the next article, in October, we will report on the opening of the first new FDAC in these sites.

See also two articles in July Family Law - 'Update on FDAC roll-out and the FDAC National Unit' and 'FDAC - the facts by Nick Crichton, Sophie Kershaw, Dr Mike Shaw and Kieron Daniels.'

Find out more:

Jo Tunnard has a background in teaching and the voluntary sector. She worked at the Child Poverty Action Group, was the founding chief executive of Family Rights Group, and is an independent consultant. Jo is also a long-standing Associate of Research in Practice, an organisation supporting professionals to embed evidence-informed approaches to the design and delivery of children’s services. In this article she describes the work of six Partner agencies collaborating to extend the Family Drug and Alcohol Court model (FDAC) across England.

This article was originally published on the Research in Practice blog and has been reproduced here with permission of the copyright owner.
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