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Sustaining FDACs in times of austerity

Date:13 NOV 2017
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Sophie Kershaw, Co-Director of the FDAC National Unit and Mary Ryan, Independent Consultant and FDAC National Unit 

This ninth blog from the Family Drug and Alcohol Court National Unit (FDAC NU) focuses on the challenges of sustainability facing FDACs and the ways in which the NU supports FDAC sites in making the case for ongoing funding.

At the time of writing this blog there are nine FDAC specialist teams working across 12 courts and providing a service to 15 local authorities. The London FDAC received cross government funding for the first four years of operation (2008-2012) and some of the more recent sites received part-funding from the DfE Children’s Social Care Innovation programme for one year (2015-2016). The current position for all FDACs is that they are commissioned services without central government funding. Money is needed to pay for the multi-disciplinary specialist FDAC team. This team works intensively with parents during the course of care proceedings as well as working closely with children’s services, adult treatment services and other local agencies working with the family. The team supports the parent in court every two weeks at non-lawyer reviews, advises the judge on a regular basis and provides updates for lawyers and all the parties on the parents’ progress. 

Nearly all FDAC specialist teams are funded primarily by local authority children’s services departments. In one area the FDAC team is located within a larger service which is jointly funded by the local authority and the local NHS Foundation Trust. In another area the local substance misuse provider obtained charitable funding for the FDAC team and this is match funded by the local authority. In some areas Public Health provides substance misuse specialists for the team as a contribution to the local FDAC funding. 

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All the teams are multi-disciplinary but vary in size and in the number of full-time and part-time workers. Some teams are funded by one local authority only and others work across two or more local authorities. The budget for teams is based on an average cost per FDAC case, which means that teams are commissioned to work on a certain number of cases per year. When more than one local authority commissions the specialist team this can mean that each local authority, or some of them, will only have commissioned a small number of FDAC cases each year, for example seven or eight. It also means that the cost per case varies from area to area depending on the size of the team and the number of cases but the average cost per case in FDAC is between £12,000 and £13,000.

It was recognised from the start of the first FDAC in London in 2008 that if this radical alternative to care proceedings was to be sustainable then it needed to establish that it was effective in achieving its intended outcomes of helping more parents cease misusing substances and enabling more families to be reunited as a result. The independent evaluation of FDAC carried out over the first four years of the court’s existence established that FDAC was more effective than ordinary proceedings in achieving these outcomes. Subsequently, in 2016, Lancaster University and RyanTunnardBrown followed up all FDAC and comparison cases from the original research and found that five years on from the end of proceedings positive outcomes were better sustained in FDAC cases. This was a particularly important finding as it established that better outcomes at the end of proceedings in FDAC were sustained over time and it suggests that there is a longer-term ‘FDAC effect’. 

The research has also confirmed that parents and professionals, including judges, were overwhelmingly positive about the FDAC model. They had high praise for the skills of the team in motivating and engaging parents. They considered that the regular and ongoing conversation with the judge was a particularly important aspect of the process. They noted that the ‘trial for change’ approach in FDAC provided a fair and open test of the parents’ capacity to change. They described FDAC proceedings as much more collaborative and less adversarial than ordinary care proceedings.

Having established that FDAC was effective it was also important to look at its cost effectiveness and the longer term cost benefits related to improved outcomes. In 2016, the Centre for Justice Innovation undertook an analysis of the financial impact of the London FDAC. This was based on the findings from the evaluation but took into account more recent information from local authorities about costs and the impact of Family Justice Review changes, such as a reduced use of experts in care proceedings, shorter proceedings and fewer court hearings. Their analysis demonstrates that FDACs save money in both the short and longer term. The report demonstrates how savings from good outcomes increase over the years but that at the end of two years savings generated by FDAC exceed the cost of the service and after five years for each £1 spent, £2.30 is saved. The analysis is based on 46 cases per year, with the cost of each case being £12,170.  

The savings accrue from fewer children being permanently removed from their parents, fewer children and parents coming back into the court system and less substance misuse by parents. While local authorities will benefit from most of these savings, there will be also be savings for the NHS, public health and the criminal justice system as a result of the reduction in substance misuse and related problems for parents. The recommendations from research into FDAC, which are supported by the FDAC NU, is that funding for the specialist team should come from health and criminal justice agencies as well as from children’s services. As we have seen, in some sites Public Health does contribute to the local FDAC but this is still the exception rather than the rule. The NU continues to argue for multi-agency funding for FDACs and also for central government support for these specialist courts. Currently, the NU is in negotiations with the Legal Aid Agency over whether part of FDAC costs can be covered by legal aid, as part of the work done by the specialist team is the equivalent of an expert assessment and report.  

Despite the strong evidence that FDAC delivers better outcomes, better justice and value for money, the biggest challenge facing local authorities is sustaining funding for their FDACs in the current economic climate. Although FDAC is no more costly than other intensive family interventions, like them and other specialised family services they struggle for continued funding in circumstances where local authorities are struggling to meet their basic responsibilities. 

The FDAC NU is supporting local sites to collect their own data on outcomes through the provision of data collection tools and a specially designed database, but establishing evidence about outcomes and value for money inevitably takes time, particularly if a local authority has commissioned only a small number of FDAC cases each year. At the FDAC NU we advise sites that it takes two or three years, with a reasonable number of cases, before improved outcomes become evident. This is because it takes time for a new service to function at its optimal level and also because cases where parents show capacity to change, become abstinent and be safely and successfully reunited with their children, usually take longer than 26 weeks. As a result, you would not expect to see a high number of returns home in the first year of an FDAC which creates challenges when funding is decided on a yearly basis. A focus solely on saving money also risks ignoring some other positive outcomes from FDAC. It is hard to find a monetary value for some of the outcomes in FDAC, such as parents and professionals finding the experience of the court process much more positive and parents gaining greater insight into their problems and the impact of these on parenting.

One opportunity for resolving the challenges in relation to funding may come from social investment. In October the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch, announced that the FDAC NU has been awarded a £6m grant from the Government’s Life Chances Fund. This new grant will enable the FDAC NU to work with 11 local authorities, three of whom already have an FDAC, to develop an FDAC Outcomes Contract which will be supported by a Social Impact Bond.

Social Impact Bonds provide up front funding to deliver the FDAC service without the local authority paying. The local authority will repay the bond only when the service is successful in meeting agreed outcomes: safe reunification of children and parents, parental abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and improved parental mental health. The outcomes contract for the SIB/Life Chances Fund FDACs will be for five years. We hope that this long-term funding will allow for stable FDAC services to develop and to demonstrate clearly the improved outcomes that can be achieved. The FDAC NU is working with Bridges, a Social Investor, to develop the model and bring investment from their Social Impact Bond fund. This fund is made up of contributions from a range of organisations interested in investing money in solutions to social problems.

We hope that this innovative funding model may go some way to help us meet the President’s ambition, expressed in his 12th view:

'The FDAC approach is crucially important. The simple reality is that FDAC works...FDAC is, it must be, a vital component in the new Family Court...I want to see FDAC rolled out across the county in every DFJ area...Bear in mind that, properly used, FDAC is not merely the right thing for children and their families; as both experience and research shows, it actually saves money!' (12th View from the President's Chamber)

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