Courts for addicted parents work

The national unit that supports the family drug and alcohol court (FDAC), an initiative that aims to help addicted parents and their children, will close in September because of a lack of support from local authorities and funding from the central government.

The unit, hailed by Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the high court of England and Wales, as one of the most important developments in family justice in the last 40 years, needs £250,000 a year to survive.

FDAC offers an alternative and, research suggests, a cheaper and more successful form of care proceedings for children at risk of significant harm by parents suffering substance misuse. Alongside a team of social workers, psychiatrists, substance misuse specialists, and domestic violence experts, the court uses a problem-solving approach that works to enable parents to keep their children. Families involved are seen by the same judge every two weeks to monitor their progress.

Research focusing on mothers and children shows that almost half – 46% – had stopped misusing alcohol and drugs by the end of FDAC court proceedings, in contrast to the 30% who went through the ordinary court process. Almost 60% of mothers who kept their children were likely to still be clean of addictive substances five years after FDAC proceedings, compared with 24% in other courts.

FDAC also helps keep families together: fewer than one in five parents who go through ordinary care proceedings end up keeping their children, while at least one-third of families stay together if they go through the FDAC system. In some FDAC courts, the rate of success for families is almost half.