Family drug and alcohol court praised by evaluation amid concerns for its future

Researchers warn of challenge to help family drug and alcohol court fulfill its potential despite changes to the family justice system

A specialist family court in London has been found to be more effective than ordinary care proceedings in treating parental substance misuse and helping families stay together.

An independent evaluation of the capital’s Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC), carried out by researchers at Brunel University in 2008 and 2013, recommended the model be rolled out more widely after finding parents who had been through the process were more likely to stop misusing substances than their counterparts.

What is FDAC?

Unlike conventional care proceedings, parents in FDAC see the same judge throughout and meet with them every fortnight.

They also receive support from a multi-disciplinary team, which helps them access services and provides help in tackling other problems like housing, domestic violence and financial hardship.

The FDAC pilot ran from January 2008 to March 2012 at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court. The multi-disciplinary team is provided by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with Coram.

It found 40% of FDAC mothers stopped misusing, compared to 25% of those involved in conventional proceedings, while 25% of FDAC fathers ceased, compared to 5% of comparison fathers. The data on fathers was less complete than for mothers, however.

As a consequence of this, parents involved in the FDAC process were more likely to be reunited with their children.

Families who were reunited at the end of FDAC proceedings were also found to have lower rates of neglect or abuse in the year that followed than families who had been reunited after ordinary care proceedings.

However, the evaluation, which draws on research gathered from both 2008 and 2013, also issued a warning about the future of the much-praised model.

Researchers highlighted how the government’s adoption reforms and 26-week target for care cases could hamper the court’s efficacy by limiting the amount of specialist support available to parents with substance abuse problems.

Professor Judith Harwin, who led the research, said FDAC’s main strength is its unique combination of a specialist team attached to the court and judges who stick with a case throughout, motivating parents and providing tight oversight.

“The challenge now is to ensure that FDAC can fulfil its potential within the context of changes to the family justice system resulting from the Children and Families Act introduced last week,” she said.

District Judge Nick Crichton said: “This evaluation shows that swift access to integrated support services helps parents control their substance misuse and be reunited with their children.

“FDAC also has the support of parents themselves, which is crucial to its success. We now need to see a better system for tracking outcomes of these cases, which will give the court clearer information and improve feedback to local authorities.”

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