Promising start for court in tackling parental substance misuse

A court designed to help families stay together by diverting substance misusing parents into treatment during care proceedings has the potential to improve children’s lives, an independent evaluation has found.

An interim report on the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) pilot in London said all parents that went through the court in its first year would recommend it to others involved in care proceedings.

Many had benefited from the support of specialist mentors, who had overcome substance misuse problems themselves.

Harm caused by parental misuse

The three-year pilot, which was established in January 2008, is designed to tackle the harm caused to families by parental substance misuse, which is a factor in up to two-thirds of care proceedings cases.

Based on a successful American model, the court is being delivered in three London boroughs – Camden, Islington and Westminster – by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and children’s charity Coram, and sits at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court.

The Brunel University study – funded by charitable trust the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office – examined the court’s first year, in which it saw 37 families with 51 children.

Mental health and domestic violence

Over half the mothers had current or previous mental health problems and domestic abuse experience, half were on income support, and housing difficulties were common. Just over half the mothers, and two-thirds of fathers, had a past criminal conviction.

The report found parents drew confidence from the continuity of the process – they see the same judge throughout and meet with them every fortnight – with three-quarters of parents attending 75% of their hearings.

Prof Judith Harwin, who led the evaluation team, said: “The speed with which FDAC has become a fully operational service and the strong partnerships being developed between agencies show this new multi-disciplinary approach has the potential to succeed in breaking the cycle of harm caused to families by substance misuse.”


The interim evaluation report also highlighted challenges, including the need to ensure access to the court for families with less severe substance misuse difficulties, as well as those with more entrenched and complex needs.

The provision of parental mentors, a strength of the FDAC system, needed further development in order to ensure recruitment and training of adequate numbers. 

The evaluation team will publish its full report next year.

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