General Overview – FDAC (Family Drug and Alcohol Court) Pilot Scheme

1: The Ethos behind the Scheme: (a better way to treat parents in care proceedings and encourage a better outcome.)

(Memories of Concurrency but with some major, very important differences?)

Originally set up by DJ Nicolas Creighton at Inner London FPC in 2008 with funding from the Dept. for Children, Schools and Families, the Ministry of Justice, the HO and the Dept of Health as well as the three local authorities involved in the pilot scheme.

In 2012, direct government funding was withdrawn at the end of the pilot scheme and the LAs involved (as well as two additional London LAs) continued funding the FDAC themselves.

It now runs as a consortium of six London LAs (Camden,Islington, Westminster, Southwark, Lambeth and Hammersmith & Fulham)

In March 2013 Gloucester started an FDAC and subsequently Milton Keynes and Buckingshire started using the model.

THE NEXT AREAS TO INTRODUCE FDAC ARE:- KENT, MEDWAY, EAST SUSSEX, Plymouth, Torbay, Exeter, and West Yorkshire.

The intention is that the model will be rolled out across the country in next few years. As always problems/extending FDAC are to be funding and resources. (again cf Concurrency).

WHAT IS FDAC?

FDAC is a pilot project that is based on an American model which is widely used across the USA to help parents to address drug and alcohol use and, hopefully, keep their children

FDAC provides a “problem solving” therapeutic approach to care proceedings in cases where parents substance misuse is a problem. Parental substance misuse is a major risk factor to children that it features it up to 2/3 of all applications and is often involved in repeat care proceedings on subsequent children.

FDAC aims to improve outcomes for children by helping parents to change their lifestyle that put the children at risk of harm and removal.

In over 50% of FDAC cases the mother/parents have already had one child removed at the conclusion of previous care proceedings and in almost all those situations that was due to the same drug and alcohol dependence that instigated the subsequent proceedings. FDAC recognises that unless such dependency is properly addressed then those parents will continue to struggle to care for the children irrespective of how many times they try.

To qualify for the FDAC scheme parents must have a significant drug and/or alcohol problem and be at the stage at which they are willing to tackle that addiction. Parents are referred, usually by drug and alcohol professionals, to FDAC to be assessed to see if they have the necessary motivation for achieving abstinence. Often picked up at Pre Proceedings stage and referred by social worker. Once accepted into FDAC, proceedings are immediately timetabled for both the positive (abstinence and safe parenting meaning that the children remain at home) and the negative route (removal).

Instead of normal care proceedings process, a family chosen for FDAC will go to a slightly different process. This process is specifically designed to help tackle substance misuse.

It is a multi-disciplinary team which includes a clinical specialist nurse, a substance misuse worker, specialist social work, child and adolescent psychiatrist, adult psychiatrist, family therapist, a specialist domestic violence worker and a mental health worker and the children’s guardian.

There are no specific eligibility criteria but it is essential that parents are willing to engage with the FDAC process. There are some exclusions such as history of sexual and physical abuse of children, ongoing DV and significant mental health difficulties.

HOW DOES FDAC WORK/ DIFFER FROM ORDINARY CARE PROCEEDINGS?

The parents are expected to engage in a highly intensive program of drug intervention work and parenting assessment. Addressing an addiction may entail separating from their partner, relocating and distancing themselves from their social networks. Alongside the physical and emotional toll of reducing their usage, the parent may be asked to address, through therapy, the traumatic experiences that have influenced or perpetuated substance abuse. They are required and expected to attend appointments every week, sometimes several a day, whilst ensuring that they attend contact on time and in the appropriate frame of mind to interact with the child. Above all the parents are required to engage openly with the TACS (Turn Around for Children) team informing them of any relapses or difficulties.

NO EASY OPTION!

Very important and fundamental to FDAC cases is judicial continuity; the same judge experienced in FDAC deals with the case throughout the proceedings.

There is a problem solving approach; parents attend fortnightly court reviews without their lawyers and directly speak with the judge to report on their progress. Judges directly engage and motivate parents; a real, tangible working relationship with the same Judge.

There is a multi-disciplinary team who works for the court, helps parents to engage with the process, devise and coordinate an intervention plan (IP) which is regularly reviewed by the court.

They provide regular updates/report to the court of the parent’s progress.

Parent Volunteer Mentor: The team identifies a volunteer parent mentor, who has gone through the process, for the parents (which parents have reported they have found very helpful).

THE COURT PROCESS:

Cases and selected by the courts listing office (generally on a Tuesday) and the hearing is usually listed for the following Monday. The parent/s would be notified that they have been selected for FDAC in advance of the hearing

At the first hearing the judge will ask the parents if they are willing to commit to FDAC process and the FDAC team would commence their assessment.

The FDAC team will complete their initial assessment within three weeks and present their proposed intervention plan (PIP) to the court which will outline their recommendations about treatment, services required and any other services the children and parents may require.

The court will conduct review hearings WITH THE SAME JUDGE every two weeks to review the progress. SOLICITORS ARE NOT EXPECTED TO ATTEND REVIEW HEARINGS.

2: OVERVIEW OF PILOT SCHEME IN LONDON:

FDAC works to create a relationship between the professional drug workers, social workers, judiciary and the parents. The transparency of this relationship has assisted the parents in accepting their issues and working towards a better future.

Judicial continuity builds a relationship between the parents and the judge, and the non-lawyer reviews enable them to communicate to the judge directly. It is not uncommon for the parents to thank the judge at the end of the case even if the children are ultimately to be removed from their care.

Notwithstanding their approachability, the authority of the judge remains crucial to FDAC: “parents have to know and understand that the nice person listening to them and wanting to help them also has the authority to say they won’t get the children back”: (DJ Creighton)

The experience of FDAC also seems to promote kinship placements because a parent is less likely to destabilise a placement once they have accepted that they have drug and alcohol issues and are working towards abstinence. The TACS team also works with the family as a whole to identify triggers and signs of relapse.

One of the most successful outcomes has been the use of the Parent Volunteer Mentors, some of whom have gone on to become counsellors themselves and also been able to obtain full time employment (often after many years of serious substance misuse).

London practitioners reported initially finding it hard to cope with not being expected to attend the fortnightly review hearings but did soon learn to accept and embrace the significance of not being involved.

DJ CREIGHTON AGAIN: “FADC is better for parents, better for children, better for families and ultimately better for a society.”

TIME SCALES AND NEED TO WORK OUTSIDE THE ARTIFICIAL CONSTRAINTS OF THE 26 WEEKS!

DJ Creighton is very clear in his view that it is fundamental to FDAC that it is not constrained by the 26 week timescale of ordinary care proceedings. It is not uncommon for cases to have to take well over a year as one would expect.

The London pilot also highlighted the need for the LA not to “cherry pick” the easy cases and the experience has been that even the most difficult cases can be successful.

Example 1: A mother who had had six children removed into the care system and was in care proceedings with her seventh child. It was only during the FADC process that “the penny dropped” and she was successful in securing the return of her child under a Supervision Order against all the odds.

Example 2: A mother of three who has been addicted to heroin for more than 10 years when she went into FDAC. She found the court “intimidating”; the children were taken away and placed with MGM.

Mother was put on an intensive detoxification and therapy programme lasting six months from 10am to 4pm every day. Every fortnight she reported to the judge. Mother said she found it “really hard; really draining.”

Regular tests meant she could not lie about her drug use and intensive therapy helped her understand why she became addicted. When it was finished she was clean and got her children back.

3: ANALYSIS OF OUTCOMES CONDUCTED BY BRUNEL UNIVERSITY.

Following FDAC’s inception an evaluation was carried out in May 2014 by Brunel University funded by the Nuffield foundation. Of the 90 families that were sampled the team found:

FDAC mothers had higher rates of substance misuse cessation (40%) than those who had been through ordinary care proceedings (25%)

FDAC families had higher rates of family reunification (35%) than those who have been through ordinary care proceedings (19%)

The rate of neglect or abuse one year after the children returned home was lower for FDAC  parents (25% ) than parents who have been through ordinary care proceedings (56%)

The report concluded that FDAC is “more focused, less antagonistic and more informal, yet sufficiently rigorous when needed” compared with the standard court system.

PER MUNBY. LJ. “the simple reality is FDAC works”. (Re S (A Child) [2014] EWCC B44 (Fam).

THE ROLE OF THE GUARDIAN:

The role of the Guardian in FDAC is the same as all other cases which is:-

“Represent the child’s best interest involved in family court proceedings and provide independent advice to the courts”

Focus on the child needs, safeguarding, wishes and feelings and ensure that the children remain integral part of the decision-making

Ensure safe and child focused on outcomes for the child

Consider the child’s timeframes and advise court of any drift to the Childs permanency

Attend intervention planning meetings and be the “voice for the child”

Raise any concerns/issues with the FDAC team and the judge in timely manner

Ensure extended family membership/kinship carers identified and assessed as potential carers at the earliest opportunity to avoid drift and delay.