Promising start for new Family Drug and Alcohol Court

11 September 2009

The new model Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) has the potential to improve outcomes for children by tackling the substance misuse of parents at an early stage of care proceedings, according to an independent report published today. 

Under the FDAC system, parents are getting immediate access to substance misuse services. Families are also benefiting from the court’s assistance in addressing other issues affecting their ability to parent, such as housing, domestic violence and financial hardship.

Unlike current care proceedings, parents see the same judge throughout and meet with them every fortnight. This continuity of support is giving parents confidence in the process, with three quarters of parents attending at least 75% of their hearings.

All parents to have been through the court so far would recommend FDAC to other parents in care proceedings. Many of them have benefited from the support of specialist mentors, who have overcome substance misuse problems themselves.

An independent evaluation team, led by Professor Judith Harwin at Brunel University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has published its interim report into FDAC’s first year of operation. The court is currently a pilot project being delivered in three London boroughs - Camden, Islington and Westminster - by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with children’s charity Coram.

“The speed with which FDAC has become a fully operational service and the strong partnerships being developed between agencies show this new multi-disciplinary approach has the potential to succeed in breaking the cycle of harm caused to families by substance misuse,” Professor Harwin said.

The interim evaluation report also highlights the challenges faced by the court in its early days of operation, including the need to ensure access to the court for families with less severe substance misuse difficulties, as well as those with more entrenched and complex needs.

The provision of parental mentors, a strength of the FDAC system, needs further development in order to ensure recruitment and training of adequate numbers.

Judge Nick Crichton, an advocate of the new approach, said the findings of the interim evaluation were encouraging:

“Providing quick access to integrated support services for parents with substance misuse problems is essential in keeping families together, but we also need to make informed decisions for childrens’ futures in cases where this approach is unsuccessful - early evidence suggests FDAC is capable of achieving this balance.”

The FDAC pilot will run until January 2011 and the evaluation team will publish its full report next year. The report will outline set-up and implementation lessons, provide comparisons with standard care proceedings and costs, and indicate how FDAC might lead to better outcomes for children and parents.

If these promising trends continue, a study of longer-term outcomes and continued support for the FDAC trial would be required to see if the early potential is fulfilled.

ENDS

Contact: Fran Bright, Communications Manager, 020 7681 9623.

Notes to editors

1. The Family Drug and Alcohol (FDAC) Interim Report is available to download from the Brunel University website http://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/centres/iccfyr/fdac

2. FDAC sits at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court in Wells Street. In its first year, 37 families with 51 children entered the court. In approximately half the cases children had been removed before proceedings began.

3. The evaluation of FDAC is being funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office. The interim stage was carried out using an analysis of child and parent file data; observation of the court in operation; interviews with parents, judges and the FDAC team; a focus group with children’s guardians; informal feedback meetings with social workers and lawyers and information from FDAC’s governing groups. The interim report was discussed with a wide range of policy-makers and practitioners at a seminar held at the Nuffield Foundation on 10th September.

4. The total funding secured for the three year FDAC project is £1,340,000.The Ministry of Justice has contributed £390,000, DCSF has committed £450,000 and the Home Office has given £50,000. The remaining £450,000 is being equally contributed from the three local authorities.