Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) research project

Substance misuse has been identified as a main issue in up to two-thirds of all care proceedings and the outcomes are often poor for the children concerned. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC), a new way of dealing with care proceedings when parental substance misuse is causing harm to children. The evaluation found that FDAC was more effective than ordinary care proceedings in achieving parental substance misuse cessation and reuniting families at the end of proceedings. It was also more successful in preventing fresh neglect or re-abuse in families whose children were returned home. 

FDAC was provided by a multidisciplinary team from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. It was evaluated by a research team from Brunel University London led by Professor Judith Harwin with funding from the Nuffield Foundation (2008-13) and Home Office (2008-2011).  

Project detail

Background

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) is a pilot project that has been based on an American model. Specialist drug and alcohol courts are used widely across the USA, where early findings have suggested they have been successful in enabling more children in care to return home because their parents have engaged with substance misuse services.

The aim of the FDAC is to help parents stabilise/stop using drugs/alcohol and, where possible, to keep families together. Instead of a normal care proceedings court process, a family chosen for the FDAC process will go through a slightly different process, with more regular court hearings with the same judge for the whole process.

The process has been set up specifically to help tackle any drug or alcohol problems. The process involves co-ordinating a range of services so that the family’s needs, concerns and strengths are all taken into account, with everyone working towards the best possible outcome for the children - a stable and safe family which is able to stay together.

The pilot, which ran from January 2008 to March 2012, was evaluated by a team led by Professor Judith Harwin at Brunel University and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office. It was conducted in two stages.

Methods

The evaluation compared cases from the three FDAC pilot authorities with similar cases from three comparison cases. Parental substance misuse was a key factor in the decision to start care proceedings in all the cases.

The main findings are based on 90 FDAC families (122 children) who were referred to and received the FDAC intervention with 101 families (151 children) who formed the comparison sample. All cases were followed up to final order. 24 FDAC (34 children) and 18 comparison families (31 children) who were reunited at the end of the proceedings were followed up for one year. They comprised 75% of all family reunifications cases in each sample.

Interviews were held with parents and with the FDAC judges, team and court staff and commissioners involved in the set-up and implementation of FDAC. Focus groups were held with parent mentors and with professionals who had cases in FDAC (lawyers, guardians, social workers and staff from adult treatment services).

Key findings

FDAC helped more families stop misusing drugs and alcohol and the rate of family reunification was higher, meaning that fewer children were taken into care.

In addition to the intensive support from FDAC, the FDAC families also  were offered more substance misuse and family support services than comparison families, possibly helping to explain the better results.

Parents valued the FDAC service and the overwhelming majority would recommend FDAC to other parents in a similar situation. The professionals all considered FDAC to be a better approach than ordinary care proceedings.

The first stage report showed that the costs of FDAC were offset by savings that included taking fewer children into care, less use of foster care during proceedings, less use of independent expert reports and fewer legal representatives at the proceedings.

Impact

The President of the Family Division has called for national roll-out of FDAC stating that 'FDAC works', and citing the FDAC Evaluation Report (2014).The Family Justice Review Final Report (2011) said FDAC showed ‘considerable promise’ and recommended a further roll-out. The Munro Child Protection Report (2011) highlighted the value of the multidisciplinary approach used by FDAC as a exemplar for effective assessment and therapeutic intervention. 

Publications

Harwin, J., Alrouh, B., Ryan, M. & Tunnard, J. (May 2014) Changing Lifestyles, Keeping Children Safe: an evaluation of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in care proceedings. Brunel University. ISBN 978-1-908549-13-6.

Related documents including a briefing paper published by the Nuffield Foundation and new developments are available at http://www.brunel.ac.uk/fdacresearch/ and at http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/

Collaborating institutions

Brunel University

Ryan Tunnard Brown

Project team

Professor Judith Harwin

Dr Bachar Alrouh

Dr Subhash Pokhrel

Professor Jim Orford

Mary Ryan

Jo Tunnard