A new large-scale study has revealed the positive impact of the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) versus standard care proceedings under the Children and Families Act 2014.
FDAC aims to address the problems which led a local authority to bring the parent(s) to court by using a “problem-solving” approach. This involves a specialist multi-disciplinary team working closely with a judge and other professionals to provide intensive support to parents, with the aim of reducing their substance misuse issues.
A new study – conducted by Foundations – compared families in both types of proceedings across nine different local authorities, interviewing key stakeholders – including parents, judiciary, and leads – along the way.
Foundations’ study found children with a primary carer in FDAC care proceedings were significantly more likely – 52% versus 12.5% – to be reunified with their primary carer at the end of the care proceeding in comparison to children with a primary carer in non-FDAC care proceedings. Other findings included:
- A higher proportion of FDAC than comparison parents had ceased to misuse drugs or alcohol by the end of the proceedings (33.6% versus 8.1%)
- The proportion of hearings being contested was lower for FDAC than standard care proceedings (4.2% versus 23.8%)
- A lower proportion of FDAC cases used external expert witness assessments compared with non-FDAC care proceedings (7.7% versus 96.1%)
- Children in FDAC sites had lower probability of being placed in LA care compared with non-FDAC care proceedings (28.6% versus 54.7%)
- The positive outcomes for cases supported by FDAC is in line with the evidence on FDAC in the WWCSC’s Evidence Store and the literature base
While Foundations pointed out limitations with the study’s methodology that make it impossible to attribute effects entirely to FDAC, the patters are intriguing nevertheless.
Indeed, as a result of the study, Foundations recommended the Department for Education and the Care Proceedings Reform Group should consider embedding evaluation, including a cost analysis, in any scale up of problem-solving approaches in family courts.
However, they said a “more robust comparison” is required to conclusively show the impact of FDAC. “Embedding this further evaluation in any scale up would enable more families to benefit from extra support, while building the evidence Government needs to assure itself that problem-solving approaches in family courts improve outcomes and present good value for money,” they said.
They added that the learning from the process evaluation conducted as part of this study can be used to strengthen problem-solving approaches in family court and in addressing the challenges in implementation when delivering problem-solving approaches in family court.
Foundations also called upon local commissioners to consider how FDAC can form part of their services for families, and how it would operate alongside other substance misuse services.
Another key implication of their findings, say Foundations, is that data collection during standard care proceedings should be improved, adding that this will help to make more robust comparisons in future.
Commenting on the findings was ADCS President John Pearce. He said:
“Wherever possible children are best brought up within their own families, supported by local services to prevent problems from escalating.
It is right to seek solutions within families and to sustain them where possible and where it is in the child’s best interests to do so, but their needs and rights must remain at the heart of everything that we do.
The use of Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) proceedings is one such example where problem solving approaches can avoid care proceedings.
This research from Foundations provides a welcome analysis of the value of FDAC […] The value of problem solving arrangements, such as FDAC, are clear to see, but the piecemeal nature of new funding has meant the benefits have been limited to a small number of local authorities.
ADCS would welcome a shift in approach so that all local authorities were resourced to explore new ways of working and where there is evidence of what works, all were resourced to implement such models.”