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Better Courts: the financial impact of the London Family Drug and Alcohol Court

Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) are rooted in the idea of problem-solving justice, in which courts use their authority to address the complex social issues that bring people before them. FDACs specialise in hearing cases where local authorities are applying to remove children from their families due to substance misuse. They are run by specially trained, dedicated judges who provide direct, ongoing supervision and support to parents in recovery. The judges work closely with a team of social workers, psychiatrists, substance misuse workers and other professionals who offer a personalised package of support and treatment that gives parents the chance to overcome their addiction and show that they are capable of caring for their children.

The UK’s first FDAC was launched in 2008 in London and today supports more than 40 families a year. The Department for Education has supported the rollout of the FDAC model, and today eight FDAC clusters are in operation, serving 19 local authorities at 12 courts, with more sites in development. FDAC has been shown to have better outcomes than normal care proceedings. In 2014, an evaluation report by Brunel University concluded that compared to standard proceedings:

• Children whose cases are heard in FDAC are less likely to be taken into care permanently;
• Parents in FDAC are more likely to cease their drug use;
• Children in FDAC are less likely to experience further neglect and abuse.

The value for money of FDAC
Our new analysis demonstrates that FDAC saves the state money. Across the 2014/15 caseload, the London FDAC cost £560,000 (in respect of specialist staff salaries, office costs etc.) and generated estimated gross savings of £1.29m to public sector bodies over five years. In other words, for each £1 spent, £2.30 is saved to the public purse. These cashable savings accrue primarily from FDAC’s better outcomes: fewer children permanently removed from their families, fewer families returning to court and less substance misuse. The savings generated by FDAC exceed the cost of the service within two years of the start of the case.

Immediate savings
In 2014/15, London FDAC initiated 46 cases at a cost per case of £12,170 on average. However, the upfront costs of the service are partially offset during proceedings because FDAC saves money on legal costs and experts witnesses and assessments. These immediate savings mean that the effective cost of the service was only £5,825 per case on average.

Longer-term savings
Drawing on the outcomes described in the 2014 Brunel evaluation and information on costs collated from a variety
of sources, we conclude that in the five years following the commencement of an FDAC case the court will generate
three types of long-term savings compared to standard proceedings:

• FDAC keeps more children with their families. This saves public money that would otherwise be spent on taking children into care. This amounts to an average of £17,220 per case;
• Families who appear in FDAC are less likely to return to court. FDAC therefore saves money on future court costs. Savings in the cost of parents returning to court either after reunification or with future children are £2,110 per
case on average.
• More parents in FDAC overcome their drug and alcohol addictions. This creates savings for the NHS due to reduced long-term need to provide drug treatment; and to the criminal justice system due to reduced drugrelated crime. These savings amount to £5,300 per case on average.

However, there are also two areas where FDAC costs more than standard proceedings. Firstly, more parents take up substance misuse treatment during the court proceedings which incurs a cost or £2,485 per case on average. Secondly, as more children remain with their families there is an additional cost of supporting those families which is on average £460 per case.

Taking all of these factors together, over five years the net financial saving relating to the FDAC in 2014/15 caseload
is some £729,000, which equates to £15,850 per case on average.

About this analysis
This analysis focuses on the direct costs and savings to local authorities and other state stakeholders and does not include wider savings and benefits that could be attributed to societal outcomes (such as citizens’ well-being). It is modelled on the London FDAC 2014/15 caseload, which consisted of 46 cases which began proceedings in the 2014/15 financial year. We have looked at the financial impacts in proceedings and for five years following the commencement of cases.

In developing these estimates, we have drawn on outcomes data gathered by Brunel University as part of their 2014 evaluation (Harwin et al., Changing Lifestyles, Keeping Children Safe: an evaluation of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court in care proceedings). The Brunel study used a sample of 90 families going through FDAC (during 2008-2010), in comparison to 101 similar families going through standard care proceedings (during 2008-2012), plus a one-year follow-up on a smaller sub-set. This has been combined with cost data gathered from a number of sources, which are described in the relevant parts of the text.

A key assumption of this analysis is that the impact of FDAC in 2014/15 was the same as that observed by Brunel in 2008-2010. Further analysis of long-term FDAC outcomes (such as the number of children returned to parents who are the subject of further court proceedings) is currently being undertaken by Brunel University, and the analyses presented here are subject to change in the light of that research.

All monetary figures (unless otherwise stated) are presented in terms of ‘net present value’, in which the value of future savings is lessened to reflect a greater preference to have savings sooner rather than later. In calculating we have used a discount rate of 3.5% in line with HM Treasury guidance.