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The Family Drug & Alcohol Court (FDAC) Evaluation Project

Final Report

This report presents the findings from the evaluation of the first pilot Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in Britain. FDAC is a new approach to care proceedings, in cases where parental substance misuse is a key element in the local authority decision to bring proceedings. It is being piloted at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court in Wells Street. Initially the pilot was to run for three years, to the end of December 2010, but is now to continue until March 2012. The work is co-funded by the Department for Education (formerly the Department for Children, Schools and Families), the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Department of Health and the three pilot authorities (Camden, Islington and Westminster).1 The evaluation was conducted by a research team at Brunel University, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office.

FDAC is a specialist court for a problem that is anything but special. Its potential to help break the inter-generational cycle of harm associated with parental substance misuse goes straight to the heart of public policy and professional practice. Parental substance misuse is a formidable social problem and a factor in up to two-thirds of care cases. It is a major risk factor for child maltreatment, family separation and offending in adults, and for poor educational performance and substance misuse by children and young people. The parents’ many difficulties create serious problems for their children and place major demands on health, welfare and criminal justice services. For these reasons, parental substance misuse is a cross-cutting government agenda.

FDAC is distinctive because it is a court-based family intervention which aims to improve children’s outcomes by addressing the entrenched difficulties of their parents. It has been adapted to English law and practice from a model of family treatment drug courts that is used widely in the USA and is showing promising results with a higher number of cases where parents and children were able to remain together safely, and with swifter alternative placement decisions for children if parents were unable to address their substance misuse successfully. The catalysts for the FDAC pilot were the encouraging evidence from the USA and concerns about the response to parental substance misuse through ordinary care proceedings in England: 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 cost of expert evidence.