Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)

London, Parents, Public Family Law

“It wasn’t like the experience I’d had of the criminal court. Very early on a relationship started to build up. I was given the opportunity to speak and build up this relationship with the judge, the social worker and the professionals. I knew what was happening. I knew the plan. It makes me want to cry thinking back to it. I was given the opportunity to speak about myself, and to learn, and to gain trust.” [Parent]

The first FDAC was piloted in London in 2008, and the model is now operating in nine sites across the UK. As DfE innovation funding is finalised for the development of seven new FDAC teams across the UK, we take a look at the details of this groundbreaking family court. 

Care proceedings are the court process which ensues when a local authority applies to the court as they believe a child is at serious risk of harm at home and needs a legal order to keep them safe. A final order from care proceedings can involve the court ordering children to be removed permanently from the care of their parents, without their consent. In other cases, it will involve children remaining with their parents, with different levels of supervision from children’s services.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court is a therapeutic problem-solving court model, which replaces standard care proceedings. FDACs are courts for parents whose children are subject to proceedings due to their drug and alcohol problems. The model is designed to enable parents to stop misusing drugs and alcohol, so that where possible, children can remain with their families. Practitioners and judiciary work from the belief that all parents can change and should be given the support to do so, as well as an understanding that much change is achieved through, and in, trusting relationships. The approach therefore seeks to reduce the adversarial and punitive elements of proceedings, and introduce a collaborative model.

Judges as agents for change

“Whenever a case is called into court I always try to address the parent or parents first, even when they are represented. It is important for them always to understand that they are central to the proceedings and the most important people in the room.” [FDAC judge]   

FDACs uses a problem solving court approach which means that the judge not only adjudicates the case, but plays a proactive role in motivating parents.

This is achieved through judicial continuity and judicial monitoring, as well as a focus on the relational power of the judge as an agent for change.

The judge in an FDAC case is encouraged to form a relationship with the parent. They meet them regularly in bi-weekly non-lawyer reviews. At these reviews, the judge speaks directly to parents without their lawyers presents, encouraging them and recognising the difficulty of their circumstances but also challenging them on risky decisions or lapses. In turn, the judge speaks with transparency, explaining the decisions of the court and the priorities they must consider. Judges make use of motivational interviewing techniques in these NLRs to build on the therapeutic work of the FDAC team.

Intensive support from a MDT

“When I signed up for FDAC I was a broken person, but I didn’t realise it. I’d had trauma from my teens, mental health problems, violence, and sexual assault and I’d become an addict. I’d gone from one violent relationship to another and was using. To go into court as an addict but to be seen as a human being was the start of my journey to treatment.” [Parent]

Judicial monitoring runs parallel to intensive support from a multi-disciplinary team. The specialist team takes the place of an expert witness report, and provides in-depth assessment and support to parents.

Support often involves key work, individual or group therapy and active signposting, especially in terms of making referrals to appropriate treatment providers for counselling, community prescribing or inpatient detoxification and rehabilitation. Some FDAC teams also run Video Interaction Guidance, which is an intervention which helps parents to enhance their insight into their relationships with their children.

The specialist team also has the input of a clinician, who will chair ‘Formulation’ and ‘Intervention Planning Meetings’, which are both key parts of the psychologically-informed FDAC approach. At Formulation, the MDT come together to discuss and conjecture in order to draw out the needs of the family. At an IPM, the family and other professionals involved in the case, like the Children’s Social Worker and Guardian, are invited to take part in collaboratively drawing up the intervention plan.

Regular Testing

The MDT is responsible for regularly testing parents to measure their drug and alcohol use. FDACs do not take a zero tolerance approach to substance misuse, and are experienced in helping parents recover from lapses or relapses within the court process.  

London Beginnings

FDAC started in London in 2008 as a three-year pilot, funded by central government, and run in partnership by the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust and the children’s charity Coram. 

Growth & Change

There are currently 9 specialist FDAC Teams, working in 12 courts and serving families in 20 local authorities in London, Gloucestershire, Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Coventry, Kent and Medway, Southampton, Leeds, and Armagh.

Two new FDACs in Bedfordshire and the Black Country will be starting services within the next six months, with five more in Somerset, Stockport, East Anglia (Essex, Southend & Suffolk), Tyneside (Newcastle, Gateshead & North Tyneside) and Birmingham & Solihull following in 2020.

As FDACs have grown up around the county, they have adapted to local contexts. The East Sussex FDAC, which opened in April 2015, is run from within an existing multi-disciplinary child protection and care proceedings assessment and support service, SWIFT, which is commissioned jointly by Children’s Social Care and the local NHS Foundation Trust.

Southampton FDAC, which opened in 2015, also runs within a multi-disciplinary specialist assessment team, the Children’s Resource Service.

In Gloucestershire, the FDAC service is a team within the local authority Children & Young People Service, known as the Turn Around for Children Service (TACS). While the service is faithful to the FDAC models aims, approach and court process, there are key differences from the evaluated London model, such as that the children’s social worker sits within the FDAC team.

Evaluation

In September 2016, the DfE funded a ‘Five Years Later’ Study, which built on the evaluation of the initial pilot by following up families involved in London FDAC to judges outcomes over a long period.

The research emphasised the success of the model in improving outcomes for families:

  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison mothers had ceased to misuse by the end of proceedings (46% v 30%)
  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison families were reunited or continued to live together at the end of proceedings (37% v 25%)
  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison reunification mothers (58% v 24%) were estimated to sustain cessation over the five-year follow up.
  • In relation to the single variable of return to court, a lower proportion of FDAC than comparison reunified children were estimated to do so in the follow-up period (34% v 55%).

If you have any questions about the FDAC model or are interesting in starting an FDAC in your area, contact Albinia Stanley on astanley@justiceinnovation.org.

This case-study was written by Albinia Stanley in 2019.