The Centre for Justice Innovation annual report for the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (“FDAC”) has recently been published with a foreword from Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division. In the foreword the President describes FDAC as “a problem-solving, court-driven, approach to care proceedings”. Statistically, FDAC families have been shown to be much more likely to be reunified at the end of care proceedings, compared to similar families going through standard care proceedings, and they are much more likely to have ceased using substances and their children much less likely to be placed in care.
Local practitioners will know full well of the benefits to parents of attending FDAC and it is a great shame that FDAC in Kent has had to close due to a lack of local funding. Sadly, Kent was not alone with the Somerset FDAC closing in October 2022 and with the Cardiff and the Vale FDAC also due to close. That being said, FDAC did open in Wiltshire and it has expanded in Greater Manchester.
In East Sussex, FDAC increased its judicial capacity enabling cases to be heard across two different court buildings which has allowed it to welcome an additional FDAC judge to the team, and the extra day provided is also said to be set up to specifically support cases where domestic abuse is the primary presenting issue. East Sussex have also built in the involvement of specialist practitioners with a health visitor background which is said to have added “an additional layer of understanding around child development and parental stress to the multi-disciplinary team.”
Overall, FDAC services were working with families from 38 local authorities in England and Wales in 22 family courts.
Nationally, 191 families entered FDAC in 2022/23, comprising of 230 parents and 376 children. Of those parents, 20% had been in care themselves as children and 34% had previous children removed from their care.
The outcome for parents in FDAC was encouraging. The figures for cases concluding in FDAC between 1st April 2022 and 31st March 2023 (excluding Pan-London) were based on 183 concluded cases from which 45% of children were returned to live with their families and 30% were placed with a friend or family member.
The average FDAC case took 43 weeks compared to 46 in standard cases. Notably, only 10% of FDAC cases ended in a final contested hearing.
All of this is hugely positive and the report should be read in conjunction with the large scale evaluation of the impact of FDAC commissioned by Foundations, the Government’s What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care that was published in August 2023 (https://foundations.org.uk/our-work/reports/family-drug-and-alcohol-courts/#:~:text=Key%20findings&text=A%20higher%20proportion%20of%20FDAC,(4.2%25%20versus%2023.8%25 ).