In the past 5 years a pioneering family court has saved public sector bodies £1.29m. The London Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) championed by District Judge Nicholas Crichton tackles drug and alcohol misuse in local authority care proceedings.
The savings come from tackling drugs and alcohol with a head on approach, Crichton notes;
“FDAC is tough but fair towards all the families it supervises. Parents are given a chance to work hard and overcome their drug and alcohol problems in order to show that they’re “good enough parents” for their children. This is the best possible justice for vulnerable families often living in the hardest circumstances.”
The FDAC, based in Holborn, is run by Tavistock and Portman NHS FoundationTrust coupled with key partners: Coram (the children’s charity), Brunel University and the Centre for Justice Innovation.
The innovative court brings together all the services engaged with the family and focuses on the achievements and needs of the family in an attempt to keep the family together. All cases in the FDAC are heard by the same judge throughout meaning the judge gains a greater understanding of the family’s needs and becomes familiar to all parties involved. Involvement in the FDAC process is voluntary and parents may decline to participate, in these instances their case will progress through the regular family courts. Parents come to court every fortnight for a review of their case and their progress is closely monitored by the judge, health professionals, social workers and local authorities. Parents are also expected to comply with continuous drug testing throughout the 9 month process. Currently only two cases are referred to FDAC each week.
An evaluation conducted in 2014 by Brunel University, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, found that 35% of mothers who had been through FDAC successfully overcame their addiction(s) compared to 19% of mothers who went through ordinary proceedings. The court however only sits one day per week and given the high frequency in which parents appear before the court it can only deal with a limited number of cases. Cases before the court solely concern care proceedings meaning it is a last ditch attempt to keep the family together by resolving parental addiction but if there is insufficient progress children will ultimately be taken into local authority care.
The savings to the public sector are substantial and the process is predicted to save £201,925 in local authority legal representation alone. The Legal Aid Agency expects to save £90,000 on the cost of external assessments and experts. Criminal justice will also benefit from the court’s existence saving £77,790 from the prevention of substance misuse cases. The court will also provide a relief for the NHS saving £160,000 in post-proceedings drug abuse treatment. The biggest and most important saving will come from reduced need for local authority care with a higher number of children being returned to their families, this is estimated to be £791,970.
Whether the FDAC process will work on a national scale remains to be seen, however the well-established pilot scheme suggests it may be a more efficient and effective way of running the family law system and keeping families together.