New Child Arrangements Orders – What Do They Mean For You?

Family Drug and Alcohol Courts rolled out across England

Child handFamily Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) are being rolled out to more areas across England after a successful pilot in Central London in 2008 and subsequent extension to Milton Keynes and Gloucester. FDACs are special courts which help parents with substance misuse issues keep their children within the family. Now there are plans to open FDACs in Kent, East Sussex, Plymouth, Torbay, Exeter, and West Yorkshire using £2.5 million extra cash from the government.

The FDACs are part of the continuing extensive overhaul of the family justice system which will see specialist services targeting children at risk of neglect and abuse. The funding for their expansion is coming from the Department for Education.

Significant numbers of families coming into care proceedings have at least one substance addicted parent. FDACs are unique and innovative because unlike the standard family court, they have an in-house team of drug and alcohol rehabilitation experts and medical staff to help families deal with their addiction.

The uniqueness of the FDAC is its multidisciplinary team which is totally independent from the local social services. The team includes child protection officers, drug and alcohol counsellors, specialist clinical nurses, domestic violence counsellors, and psychiatrists.

The FDAC approach has been hailed as a holistic process where parents attend court every two weeks and see the same judge at every visit. This ensures critical continuity so that parents build a relationship with the judge and he or she can accurately gauge the progress the parents are making.

The usual practice is that children are placed temporarily in foster care or with other family members while the parents undergo intensive treatment, detox and intensive therapy lasting for 26 weeks or more. All parents are subjected to regular testing to ensure they are drug and drink free. Throughout this rehabilitation period the FADC gives families access to a practical, therapeutic approach to child care cases where parent’s substance misuse is the main reason for the local authority decision to instigate proceedings.

According to preliminary evaluation studies carried out by Brunel University, FDAC families are more likely to recover from substance misuse and are more likely to be reunited than those who have been through traditional care proceedings. The evaluation showed 40% of FDAC mothers and 25% of fathers stopped misusing substances, in contrast with 25% of mothers and 5% of fathers who have been through non-FDAC proceedings. In terms of reunification of the family, the evaluation found 35% of FDAC mothers were reunited with their children, compared with 19% of non-FDAC mothers. The rate of abuse and neglect after children were returned was lower in FDAC: 25% compared with 56%.

The report also highlighted the financial benefits of the FDAC process, with shorter child care placements saving £4,000 per child. The specialist in-house team carries out work on a par with experts in non-FDAC cases, saving £1,200 per case. Quicker and fewer court hearings saved local authorities £682 per family.

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