Research on family court for parents battling addiction

Published: Thursday 1st May 2014

A new report has found that the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC), run by Coram and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, is nearly twice as successful at keeping some families together than traditional court proceedings

FDAC is a pioneering family court service for parents misusing drugs or alcohol addiction which offers comprehensive support from a multi-disciplinary team. Unlike conventional court proceedings, parents see the same judge throughout and receive a range of support including drug and alcohol testing and treatment, psychiatric support and practical assistance with related issues such as housing, domestic violence and financial hardship.

The independent evaluation found that parents who had been through FDAC as opposed to ordinary care proceedings were more likely to stop misusing substances and, if they did so, more likely to be reunited with their children. FDAC families who were reunited at the end of proceedings also had lower rates of neglect or abuse in the first year following reunification than reunited families who had been through ordinary care proceedings.

Main findings from the independent evaluation
The independent evaluation team was led by Professor Judith Harwin at Brunel University, London and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, with a contribution from the Home Office. It found: 

  • FDAC families had higher rates of substance misuse cessation than those who had been through ordinary care proceedings: 40% of FDAC mothers compared to 25% of comparison mothers, and 25% of FDAC fathers compared to 5% of comparison fathers, although the data on fathers was less complete than for mothers.
  • FDAC families had higher rates of family reunification: 35% of FDAC mothers stopped misusing and were reunited with their children, compared to 19% of mothers who had been through ordinary care proceedings.
  • The rate of neglect or abuse one year after children returned home was lower for FDAC parents than parents who had been through ordinary care proceedings: 25% compared to 56%.
  • In cases where reunification was not possible, FDAC was no quicker in achieving alternative permanent placement than ordinary proceedings (62 weeks).
  • In addition to receiving the intensive service from the FDAC team, a higher proportion of FDAC mothers (95% v 55%) and fathers (58% v 27%) were offered help from other agencies for their substance misuse.

In a joint statement, Coram, the Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the London Boroughs of Camden, Islington and Westminster, said: “The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Coram and the commissioning London Boroughs are very pleased to see this rigorous and thorough research showing such positive outcomes for these very vulnerable children and their families. The benefits of receiving such highly professional input at a crucial early stage, and improved access to collaborative assessment, treatment and after care services is well evidenced by Professor Harwin and her team. The service is delivering excellent results in a difficult commissioning climate and tight timescales and we hope that the FDAC model will be taken up elsewhere in the country in order that more families in serious difficulties can benefit from such innovative evidence-based professional practice.”

Professor Judith Harwin said: “Our findings show FDAC is effective in helping to break the cycle of harm caused by parental substance misuse. One of the main strengths of FDAC is its unique combination of a specialist team attached to the court and judges who stick with a case throughout, motivating parents and providing tight oversight. One father spoke for many parents interviewed when he told us: ‘FDAC has been of enormous benefit to us. I have been freed from addiction, and my child has gained a father.’ The challenge now is to ensure that FDAC can fulfil its potential within the context of changes to the family justice system resulting from the Children and Families Act introduced last week.

District Judge Nick Crichton said: “This evaluation shows that swift access to integrated support services helps parents control their substance misuse and be reunited with their children. FDAC also has the support of parents themselves, which is crucial to its success. We now need to see a better system for tracking outcomes of these cases, which will give the court clearer information and improve feedback to local authorities.”

Useful links

More about FDAC Read the summary findings and full report here