FDAC: FLiP’s Support Continues
The Children’s Commissioner estimated that in 2019/2020 there were 478,000 children living in households in England where a parent was suffering from significant alcohol or drug misuse. The presence of significant parental substance misuse, and the neglect and abuse that stem from it, often leads families into the care and public family law system. A considerable number of parents who continue to struggle with substance misuse return to court (often repeatedly). These “recurrent care proceedings” are estimated to make up 20% of cases in the public family law system.
The Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) were first piloted in London in January 2008. They were introduced to the UK by District Judge Nicholas Crichton, who had been inspired by Family Treatment Courts in California. He wanted to develop a similar problem-solving approach in the UK and find a new way of working which could disrupt the pattern of family court removing babies repeatedly from the same parents.
Thanks to DJ Nicholas Crichton, FDAC has been running in central London ever since its inception in 2008. It has since spread across Greater London and then to the rest of the UK from 2013. It offers an alternative approach to ordinary care proceedings by offering fortnightly court reviews with parents, in addition to the usual court hearings with lawyers present.
A specialist multi-disciplinary FDAC team works closely with the judge and other professionals (including domestic abuse specialists, child & adult psychologists/ psychiatrists, mental health professionals, parent mentors and substance misuse specialists) to provide intensive treatment and support for parents wishing to turn their lives around. FDACs aim to stop parental substance misuse and keep families together where it is safe to do so.
The interim report of the Independent Care Review specifically identified FDAC as exemplifying a future care system which “builds, not breaks, families.”
Independent evaluations of FDAC conducted by both Brunel and Lancaster Universities have found that FDAC was more successful than ordinary proceedings in helping parents achieve abstinence from drugs and alcohol and thus enabled more children to be reunited with their parents. For instance, 35% of FDAC mothers stopped misusing and were reunited with their children compared to 19% of mothers in normal proceedings. When families were followed up a year or more after proceedings ended, further neglect or abuse of children occurred in 25% of FDAC families compared with 56% of families in normal proceedings.
In June 2018, FDAC faced the prospect of closure due to a withdrawal of funding by the Government. A campaign was launched by Hall Brown, a family law firm with offices in London, Manchester and Sheffield, to save the National Unit. It was something that we at FLiP felt also felt strongly about. We pledged just under £40,000 to support FDAC. Altogether, more than £280,000 was raised to guarantee its work in the short term, whilst discussions continued with ministers about its longer-term future. Ten months later the then Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi promised £15 million to secure and extend FDAC’s operations. Since then, work has continued to build on the reach of FDACs.
FLiP director Helen Greenfield comments: ”One of the main reasons I became a family lawyer was to enable separating families to move forward from the split with as little damage as possible, especially where children are involved. I believe the work FDAC echoes this sentiment and then some, helping some of the most vulnerable in society to deal with the issues necessary and change the lives of the adults involved to keep their children within the family structure.”