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Changing Lifestyles, Keeping Children Safe: an evaluation of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in care proceedings

This report presents the findings from an independent evaluation of the pilot Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC). FDAC is an innovative approach to care proceedings where parental drug or alcohol misuse is a key feature of the case.

The FDAC pilot began in January 2008 at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court in London. The pilot was funded by the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Department of Health1 and three inner-London local authorities (Camden, Islington, and Westminster) – the pilot local authorities. Since April 2012, when government funding came to an end, the FDAC specialist team has been funded by a consortium of five London authorities, including Southwark and Hammersmith & Fulham as well as the original three. The specialist team is provided by a partnership between the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the children’s charity, Coram.

The evaluation was conducted by a research team at Brunel University and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office.

Why was FDAC established?
Parental substance misuse is a formidable social problem and a major risk factor for child maltreatment. It is a factor in up to two-thirds of care applications3 and parents with substance misuse problems are often involved in repeat care proceedings in relation to subsequent children. There has also been a rise in the number of care proceedings since 2008, so the scale of the problem is substantial.

FDAC has been adapted to English law and practice from a model of Family Treatment Drug Courts (FTDCs) that is used widely in the USA and shows positive results. The US national evaluation of over 2,000 cases found that, compared to proceedings in the ordinary court, more FTDC parents and children were able to remain together safely, and there were swifter alternative permanent placement decisions for children if parents were unable to stop misusing, all of which meant savings on the cost of foster care during and after proceedings.

The catalysts for the UK pilot were the encouraging evidence from the US evaluation and concerns about the response to parental substance misuse through ordinary care proceedings in England. These concerns were about poor child and parent outcomes; insufficient co-ordination between adult and children’s services; late intervention to protect children; delay in reaching decisions; and the soaring costs of proceedings, linked to the length of proceedings and the cost of expert evidence.