Pioneering family court to go national

Pioneering family court to go national

18 February 2015

Originally published in The Law Society Gazette

Monidipa Fouzder

A  pioneering problem-solving family court is to be extended across England with the help of £2.5m government funding. But Wales will not benefit from the investment as it is from a department with a remit applying only to England.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court, which was pioneered in London by district judge Nicholas Crichton in 2008, aims to tackle parental substance misuse when it is a key element in local authority decisions to bring care proceedings.

Department for Education funding will enable a newly created National FDAC Development Unit to develop specialist drug and alcohol courts across England, including Coventry, Kent and Medway, Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter, and West Yorkshire. As well as London, there are currently FDACs in Gloucestershire, Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire.

The unit will be based at the Coram Campus, where FDAC London is currently located, and supported by organisations including children’s charity Coram and the Centre for Justice Innovation.

Crichton said FDAC had seen some parents demonstrate a ‘remarkable’ capacity to change in response to its more constructive, empathetic approach. ‘Harnessing the fairness and authority of the court has shown that it is possible to break the cycle of drug and alcohol misuse,’ he said. ‘Importantly, FDAC has the support of parents themselves, which is crucial to its success.’

An evaluation carried out by Brunel University and consultants RyanTunnardBrown last year found that 40% of mothers and 25% of fathers involved in FDAC proceedings stopped misusing substances, compared with 25% of mothers and 5% of fathers who had been through ordinary care proceedings.

Centre for Justice Innovation director Phil Bowen said FDAC saved money with shorter court hearings, fewer legal representatives at hearings, fewer contested cases, and less use of foster care placements during and after proceedings.

‘We hope today’s announcement will provide a boost for the less-well-known specialist courts in other parts of the justice system to reduce crime and reduce the harm caused to communities.’

Bowen said the additional courts would need to keep ‘fidelity’ to the London FDAC model, ‘while reflecting differing needs of their caseloads and the available resources and services in their area’. He said costs will vary depending on the volume of cases each court hears.

Family law organisation Resolution welcomed the announcement. Jo Edwards, chair, said: ‘The results of the pilot FDAC speak for themselves – even more so when you hear the human stories. And there are demonstrable savings to the public purse – over the life of a case the cost of FDAC is £8,740 per family.

‘This sounds like a lot, but when you consider that care placements cost £4,000 per child, together with the costs to local authorities of ordinary care cases, it’s a financial no-brainer.’

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