The trial of a new court system, the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC), has proved a great success in tackling the problems of substance abuse in family proceedings.
The FDAC pilot ran from January 2008 to March 2012 at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court. The initiative was introduced to try to reduce the long lasting and damaging effects of substance abuse by parents; currently an issue in up to two thirds of all care proceedings.
The FDAC took a different approach to normal care proceedings in the family court, with the same judge staying on a case from start to finish. The judge was also required to hold a meeting with the parents every two weeks to discuss the progress of their case.
Parents taking part in the scheme also received support from a multi-disciplinary team of experts, who helped them to access substance misuse services and provided assistance in tackling other problems such as housing, domestic violence and financial hardship.
Ninety families in the FDAC programme were compared with 101 families going through standard care proceedings in the evaluation. The results of the pilot scheme were very encouraging.
Over the course of the pilot, 40 per cent of mothers and 25 per cent of fathers stopped misusing drugs as opposed to only 25 per cent of mothers and 5 per cent of fathers who go through the standard care proceedings.
Additionally, the FDAC had a higher family reunification rate than standard care proceedings and a significantly lower rate of abuse in the first year since the children were returned to their families.
The results of the FDAC pilot scheme
The independent evaluation team was led by Professor Judith Harwin at Brunel University, London and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, with a contribution from the Home Office.
Professor Judith Harwin said:
‘Our findings show FDAC is effective in helping to break the cycle of harm caused by parental substance misuse. One of the main strengths of FDAC is its unique combination of a specialist team attached to the court and judges who stick with a case throughout, motivating parents and providing tight oversight.
‘One father spoke for many parents interviewed when he told us: “FDAC has been of enormous benefit to us. I have been freed from addiction, and my child has gained a father.” The challenge now is to ensure that FDAC can fulfil its potential within the context of changes to the family justice system resulting from the Children and Families Act introduced last week.’