An Important Matter arising from last week’s Kent Family Justice Board Seminar:
The Kent and Medway Family Drug & Alcohol Court
Having attended the Family Justice Board Seminar last week and with the permission of District Judge Batey, it seemed to me that it might be helpful to highlight for all what appear to be the most important points surrounding the new Kent and Medway Family Drug & Alcohol Court (FDAC):
This has not been launched yet but is likely to be around the end of January 2016 in Medway.
The allocated District Judges are: DJs Batey, Gill & Sullivan.
This applies only to care cases (not private law disputes) where there are drug or alcohol issues and/or domestic abuse or mental health issues, where social services believes there is the prospect of positive change. The Court or the Guardian can also invite the LA to consider a particular case but it is the LA’s decision.
The budget and plan allows for only 27 families spread across the year.
In this initial pilot families will be selected only from Ashford, Gravesend, Maidstone, Medway and Swale.
The families who will be invited to participate will be identified by social services but, the family can refuse.
Agreed involvement will mean both the allocation of an independent specialist multi-disciplinary team to assess, assist, coordinate services for and monitor the family throughout and also the allocation of a District Judge (specially trained) who will also monitor the situation and play a proactive role in fortnightly court reviews without lawyers.
Lawyers will only normally be involved at the CMH, further CMH, IRH and final hearing.
The Guardian’s role remains the same apart from also having involvement in the initial plan.
Ultimately the team will provide a report after 18 weeks and such report may potentially lead to a relatively quick resolution for removal (apparently parents are more inclined to agree a negative outcome after going through this process having seen that they were given a chance and how they fared) or, if positive, a continuation of the process and positive planning, with provision for a period greater than 26 weeks as necessary (approved in Re S  2 FLR 575 at para. 37). Apparently the Gloucestershire pilot saw all cases resolved at IRH but, of course the process may equally not resolve matters and continue on a contested basis; thus raising an interesting question over further expert reports if the team’s report is disputed.
Such Courts elsewhere have provided positive results with a substantial increase from the norm in children staying with their parents and a substantial reduction from the norm in cases returned to court, relapses and new episodes of abuse, neglect etc.