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Pioneering family court to be extended

Problem-solving court that tackles parents' substance abuse is to be extended with £2.5m of government funding, reports Catherine Baksi

18 February 2015

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The Department for Education has provided £2.5m to extend the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) to eight areas across the country for one year.

The FDAC model, set up at a central London court by District Judge Nick Crichton in 2008, is to be extended to Medway and Kent, Torbay, Exeter, Coventry, Plymouth, East Sussex and West Yorkshire. Outside London, the courts already operate in Gloucestershire and Milton Keynes. The court deals with parents' substance abuse to help keep families together.

Crichton explained that the local authorities who send their cases to the local FDACs will each be given £180,000 to help with the set up costs and have all agreed to match that amount to run the courts.

He hopes the new courts will be up and running in 12 to 18 months.

Crichton said the expansion is "massive" and shows that the problem-solving approach is "beginning to catch on".

But he said more funding and government support is required. "We need to involve the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health," he said.

An evaluation of the process, carried out last year by Brunel University, found that the innovative scheme saved thousands of pounds per case and cut the number of children taken into care.

Of around 200 families assessed, a third (35 per cent) of FDAC mothers stopped misusing substances and were reunited with their children, compared with one fifth (19 per cent) of mothers who had been through ordinary care proceedings.

The FDAC process costs £8,740 per family over the life of a case, but is vastly less expensive than taking children into care, which costs £4,000 per child.

The court has been praised by the head of the Family Division Sir James Munby. Giving judgment in re: S (A child) [2014] EWCC B44 (Fam), he said: "The simple reality is that FDAC works."

Munby said: "FDAC is, it must be, a vital component in the new Family Court."

Precarious proceedings

Despite this, funding for FDACs are precarious and only decided on an annual basis by the local authorities that refer case to it, which makes it hard to plan ahead and means that only a small number of cases can be dealt with by it - the London FDAC deals with only around 30 cases a year - a tiny fraction of the 18,000 children involved annually in care proceedings in England.

The court sits once a week. Families who agree to go through its intensive programme of detox, counselling and drug testing, return to court every two weeks, unaccompanied by their lawyers. They are seen on each occasion by the same judge, who asks them about their progress and how they are doing.

Children and family minister and former family barrister, Edward Timpson, said: "Since 2008, the Family Drug and Alcohol Court has thrown an invaluable lifeline to hundreds upon hundreds of families, helping parents shut the door on destructive behaviour and making sure everyone is working towards the best possible outcome for the child - a safe and stable family.

"Extending the court's work further will deliver real, life-changing results for families across the country and I look forward to seeing how the scheme develops over the coming months," he said.

Jo Edwards, chair of family lawyers' group Resolution, said: "Today's announcement is an important development for separating parents who are struggling with addiction and, more importantly, for their children."

She said the savings that the court makes to the public purse, makes it a "financial no-brainer". Nevertheless, Edwards added that it was more than about saving money: "It's about working towards a solution that breaks the vicious cycle of addiction, and ultimately reunites children with their parents. You can't put a price on that."

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