Innovative family court saves taxpayers money
7 March 2016
Originally published in The Solicitors Journal
An innovative court that helps keep families together and assists parents in overcoming drug and alcohol abuse saves the taxpayer twice the cost of its upkeep, new research has suggested.
Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) are run by specialist judges and a team of social workers, psychiatrists, and substance misuse experts to help parents address drug, alcohol, and parenting problems.
The UK’s first FDAC was launched in 2008 in London. In 2014/15, the London FDAC initiated 46 cases at an average cost per case of £12,170.
New evidence from the Centre for Justice Innovation think tank showed that while the London caseload cost £560,000 in 2014/15, savings to public sector bodies over five years are estimated at £1.29m.
The findings highlighted that £17,000 has been saved per case on adoption and fostering after FDAC helped more children return safely to their families.
Parents are more likely to overcome their drug and alcohol problems following FDAC intervention, meaning £5,000 per case is saved on NHS treatment for substance abusing parents and by the criminal justice system in prosecuting drug-related crime.
Furthermore, families who appear in the court are less likely to return, making significant savings on court and legal costs.
Over five years the net financial saving relating to the FDAC in 2014/15 caseload is some £729,000, which equates to £15,850 per case on average.
FDAC judge, Nicholas Crichton, reflected on the system’s progress and said the court was ‘tough but fair’ toward 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,’ he said. ‘This is the best possible justice for vulnerable families often living in the hardest circumstances.
‘At a time when public resources are under strain, projects like FDAC which deliver great value for money to the taxpayer are essential,’ Crichton explained.
Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, Phil Bowen, suggested the criminal courts could benefit from a similar approach to FDAC.
The National Audit Office recently revealed that the criminal justice system was not delivering value for money with £21.5m wasted on preparing cases that were not heard in court.
‘It’s encouraging that problem-solving in the family courts not only delivers better justice, an important achievement in itself, but that it also offers a cost-effective way to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families,’ commented Bowen.
‘Applying a similar judge-led specialist approach in our criminal courts would take this development to the next important step. Problem solving courts are innovative, effective and fit the system here in the UK.’