The Centre's Deputy-Director, Vicki Morris, introduces the new practice briefing 'Family Drug and Alcohol Courts under Covid-19'.
Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) are courts which exist to provide a fairer and more effective way of dealing with care proceedings for parents who have drug and alcohol problems. As a therapeutic and relationship-based model, FDAC parents have intensive face-to-face contact with a number of professionals, including the judge who hears their case; the multi-disciplinary specialist FDAC team; and a variety of community and peer support services.
In our latest briefing paper, we ask: is it possible for such a service – which relies on the power of human relationships – to operate effectively during times of social distancing?
Following our close work with practitioners during this time, we examine the ways in which the nine existing FDACs across England are adapting their service delivery as a result of the pandemic. Many have been innovative in finding solutions to continue to support families amidst social distancing, but all face significant challenges in offering parents a full and fair service and assessment.
One significant challenge that practitioners have highlighted is the barrier to virtual service delivery - many parents do not have access to adequate technology, and it is extremely difficult to build a therapeutic relationship remotely. Despite this, creative approaches are being implemented by FDAC teams, judges, stakeholders and partners to help practitioners to continue to build and maintain trusting relationships with FDAC families. Equally, the readiness of parents to continue engaging with their specialist team and judge, despite the new technical, financial and emotional challenges confronting them, is testimony to the value and strength of the relationship-based principles that underpin the FDAC model.
At this time of unprecedented uncertainty, it is heartening to hear FDACs report that parents have been keen to check in regularly with the team by phone and video calls, and are pleased that judges are making special efforts to use similar methods to continue holding their fortnightly Non-Lawyer Review hearings with parents. FDAC’s non-adversarial and therapeutic approach in court boosts parental goodwill and engagement with the judge, as well as providing routine and reassurance during such challenging circumstances.
The timely publication of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory’s rapid consultation on the use of remote hearings, undertaken on behalf of the President of the Family Division, highlights some of the difficulties being faced currently across our family courts. In a context where judges, lawyers and practitioners are reporting the daily challenges of enabling parents’ participation in remote hearings, the style and practice used by FDAC judges and the specialist team might be of interest to other courts. It is clearer than ever that the FDAC model has a wealth of good practice to share with the system more widely.
The full paper can be accessed here.
To find out more about how individual FDACs are adapting to Covid-19, read our Q&A with Coventry FDAC Team Manager, Jane Dunne here.