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The FDAC trial for change – combining expert assessment and intervention during proceedings

Date:24 JAN 2017
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Jo-Ann Maycock, Development Co-ordinator FDAC National Unit

This is the second blog in our series of blogs about FDAC. Here we are going to describe one of the key differences between FDAC and ordinary care proceedings – the process of assessment and intervention that takes place within the court process.

Combining assessment and intervention in this way is a feature of the problem solving approach in FDAC where the aim is to help parents to tackle their problems as well as reaching a decision that is in the best interests of the children.

The FDAC ‘trial for change’ model

An FDAC ‘trial for change’ is an individualised programme of assessment, treatment and support:

  • giving parents the best possible chance to solve their problems, while
  • testing whether they can do that in a timescale compatible with their children’s needs, and
  • using resources that FDAC can be sure of accessing quickly from the network of partner agencies or its own service.

Problem solving is at the heart of the FDAC assessment and intervention model – helping parents to tackle the problems that are preventing them from parenting their children safely, especially drug and alcohol misuse, domestic abuse and mental health problems. As well as focusing on solvable problems FDAC works to strengthen parent-child relationships and to help families build a lifestyle that is safe and child centred.

'It’s, supportive, it gives you structure, it gives you your own choice in whether you  can or can’t parent your children.' (FDAC  Parent)

FDACs ‘trial for change’ is coordinated and delivered by trained, specialist multi-disciplinary FDAC teams and FDAC judges.

How  does the ‘trial for change’ work in practice?

The FDAC assessment of a parent’s capacity to meet their children’s needs starts at the first hearing in FDAC, and is an assessment over time. It enables parents to show the court the changes they are making or alternatively highlights that insufficient change is being achieved. 

1. Identifying what needs to change – The Initial Parenting Assessment  

The Initial FDAC Parenting Assessment is completed within three weeks of the first hearing in the FDAC court. The assessment takes place over one day and is carried out by a FDAC social worker and substance misuse worker together. Members of the FDAC specialist team complete assessment work with families through interviews with parents on the initial assessment day, observations of them with their children, substance misuse testing and a variety of other approaches.

2. Devising the ‘trial for change’ 

When all the above information has been collected the FDAC specialist team meets together and holds a Formulation Meeting. This meeting considers the risks and protective factors and analyses all the available evidence to arrive at an understanding of the family’s needs and to agree proposals for the individualised ‘trial for change’ which will form the basis of the parent’s Intervention Plan.

An Intervention Planning Meeting (IPM) follows immediately on from the formulation. It is chaired by the FDAC team’s service manager or clinical lead (child psychiatrist or psychologist) and attended by the parents and all relevant professionals. The assessment is explained and the Intervention Plan (the ‘trial for change’) is discussed and agreed with the local authority, adult treatment workers, other relevant professionals, parents, and the children’s guardian.

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3. Signing up to FDAC 

The Initial Parenting Assessment Report and Intervention Plan is sent to all parties and presented to the court at the second hearing (usually Week 3 of the proceedings). The report explains the team’s understanding of the problems that the ‘trial for change’ will need to solve and the timescale for doing that inline with the child’s needs and court expectations.

The court gives its authority to the timescales and objectives of the ‘trial for change’ during this second hearing. Parents are invited to sign up to join FDAC and to engage with the plan, the Judge and the FDAC team sign the agreement too.

4. Updating and developing the ‘trial for change’ 

Subsequent IPMs are held every 4 to 6 weeks, to review, update and develop the ‘trial for change’. Before each meeting the FDAC team reformulates the Intervention Plan on the basis of the parent’s progress and any new information or developments. This iterative process of stopping and reflecting, and revising treatment as needed, is an acknowledged strength of the model.

'It’s the healing; the mental ability to change patterns, that you get from FDAC …FDAC got me where I wanted to be.' (FDAC Parent)

 As with the first IPM, all subsequent IPMs are attended by parents, the local authority, the children’s guardian and treatment agencies. Minutes from the meetings are filed with the court before the next fortnightly court review. 

4. Regular therapeutic intervention and feedback  during the ‘trial for change’ 

All parents have an FDAC keyworker and they are expected to attend keywork sessions weekly and drug and alcohol testing appointments bi-weekly. Therapeutic keywork sessions are tailored to the parents’ needs and the model utilises the skills and expertise of the FDAC multi-disciplinary team. The keyworker also coordinates provision of services for the parents by other professionals’ agencies, makes sure parents are attending appointments, and gets feedback on the parents’ progress from the network working with the family. Interventions for parents, provided by the FDAC team or by others can include: motivational interviewing, Video Interactive Guidance, Narrative Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Analytic Therapy, substance misuse awareness, family therapy. Parents are also expected to attend suitable group interventions held at FDAC or by other service providers in support of their family’s needs in relation to: parenting, anxiety, domestic abuse.

'The intensity of the relationship that FDAC builds with parents is good. Parents see them as a Team that really is trying to help them keep their child. FDAC can establish that relationship very quickly.' (Social work  manager)

In addition to the usual hearings in care proceedings, the FDAC court holds fortnightly reviews without lawyers present. The FDAC keyworker files and circulates a Review Report a few days before the non-lawyer review, which sets out what is going well and not well with the ‘trial for change’ and explores the problems that still need to be resolved for the family. At the end of the review the keyworker files minutes of the non-lawyer review with agreed actions identified for parents and professionals. These non-lawyer reviews, always heard by the FDAC Judge assigned to that case, are a key element of the problem solving approach. They harness the judges’ role as an agent of change - motivating parents whilst reminding them of consequences and timescales.

'At first I didn’t like the judge because he was honest. He was saying it how it  was and it was bad. It was horrible. But now I know it was the truth.' (FDAC Mother)

FDAC’s transparent and iterative approach from the beginning is evidenced in feedback as a motivating factor for parents, it offers parents optimism about recovery and change, combined with a realistic understanding of the immense challenge they face. It also provides a forum for holistic problem-solving and decision making throughout proceedings.

'It felt strange to know about the plan all the time. It was fantastic. There’s  nothing worse that doing all that work and not knowing.' (FDAC Parent)

5. Coming to the end of proceedings

The aim is for the ‘trial for change’ to last until Week 18 of proceedings. At around this time the FDAC specialist team undertakes a Review Parenting Assessment to advise the court about the outcome of the ‘trial for change’ and to make recommendations. The assessment incorporates and analyses the evidence gathered during the parent’s ‘trial for change’.

'In  our very first case I saw the positives of the approach, and not just because  the children were returned to the care of their parents midway through  proceedings. Seeing the father grow and become more confident and open in the  process; seeing both parents actively repair relationships with their social  worker; and watching them seek support from the local children’s centres and  other local services that previously they would have shied away from for fear  of losing their children.

I  do not believe that any of this would have been possible without FDAC.' (FDAC Team Manager)

The majority of FDAC cases end within a timescale comparable to ordinary care proceedings. In some cases however FDACs intensive review process can provide clear evidence that parents are unable to provide safe care for their children leading to an early final hearing.

6. Where the ‘trial for change’ extends beyond 26 weeks

In some cases an extension to 26 weeks may be granted by the court. This will be in those cases where parents have made progress but some further evidence is needed before a final order can be made. In these cases the FDAC process of keyworking and non-lawyer reviews will continue.  

'We would like to thank you for giving us this great opportunity to work with FDAC  and turn our lives around. I can honestly say that we have done that with a lot  of hard work, honesty and trust.' (FDAC  Parent in a letter to Judge that heard their case)

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