The South West Peninsular Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)

 

The South West Peninsular Family

Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)

District Judge Penny Taylor,

Lead FDAC Judge for the Southwest Peninsula

Her Honour Judge Miranda Robertshaw,

The Designated Family Judge for Devon

FDAC 

I began to write this article in December 2016 in the hope that by the New Year our three Local Authorities; Devon, Plymouth and Torbay (who fund FDAC going forward) will have been able to finalise a plan for the FDAC to continue in the South West. Happily we can now report that an extension for a year has been agreed. Great news.

This has been our pilot year since November 2015 after Sir James Munby challenged all Designated Family Judges in the country to have an FDAC in each DFJ area. HHJ Robertshaw rose to that challenge which was unique because of the size of our County and number of authorities who would have to commit to the pilot.

I am one of the five District Judges who sit in the South West Peninsula FDAC. I sit in the Torquay FDAC, District Judges Richards and Leech sit in the Plymouth FDAC and District Judges Gamwell and Arnold in the Exeter FDAC. It is hoped that we will also be able to hold a FDAC court in Barnstaple.

As you read this, you may be asking what is FDAC? I can do no better than to refer you to the FDAC website and blog http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/family-drug-and-alcohol-court-an-introduction#.WGzpIcZFDZ4 for detailed information about this innovative and successful program.

Essentially the FDAC model is about Local Authorities identifying those families with drugs and alcohol addictions with perhaps also domestic abuse and mental health issues mixed in which affect their ability to parent and where care proceedings are about to be or in some cases have been launched. Be under no illusion, these are care proceedings so the threshold is reached but what the court and the TEAM do is try to help the parents beat their addictions so their children can remain with them, or be returned to their care in due course. It is, essentially, a gold service where all a variety of local services are utilised and combined to solve the problem of the parents’ addiction and the impact of this on their parenting.

The fundamental difference between FDAC and the ‘standard’ course of care proceedings is that alongside the TEAM who guide, help, and assist the families, the parents attend review hearings at court with a specialist FDAC District Judge every two weeks. A member of the FDAC team, the key worker, the social worker for the child/children and sometimes the Guardian attend the review hearings with the parents. Lawyers do not attend these reviews. Research has shown – and from our experience we agree entirely, that these reviews with the Judge are fundamental to the success of the FDAC.

These review hearings are more informal than the standard court hearing. They are still hearings and the authority of the Judge is maintained but they are conducted in such a way that the Judge and the parents , the key worker, social worker and guardian are able to have a good, frank discussion about what is going well and what is not going quite as well. There is challenge and discussion about the ramifications of poor decisions on the children and how the case might resolve. These conversations can be emotional and difficult because many of the parents have had over 20 year addictions and very troubling childhoods themselves.

The FDAC program in the South West Peninsula has been very positive and hugely rewarding. I have been uplifted by the success of FDAC for some of the families concerned and at other times there is a sense of disappointment when a parent or parents have not been able to complete the FDAC program with sufficient success to enable their child/children to be in their care. The really excellent news is that a significant number of parents succeed with their children returning to or remaining in their care when the alternative would have been in many of these cases permanent separation and often adoption. I am so very excited about this second year and what successes we will see from our FDAC program in Devon – an enabling, empowering and compassionate model for trying to resolve family conflict and difficulties.

We are very fortunate that the FDAC TEAM here is tireless, experienced and totally committed to the program. The Team comprises Ed Dyer the Team Manager, Andrew Willis the Team Administrator, Children’s Social Worker Shona Ware, Substance Misuse Specialist Vicky Brooks and Psychologist and Clinical Lead Dr Anna Gough. Adult psychiatrist Dr Nick Airey is also part of the Team ‘as and when’ his expertise is needed. All members of the Team are to be applauded for achieving what they have without out a full complement of members (we were not able to fill one vacancy). Without their expertise, commitment, motivation and ability to work cohesively as a team, the South West Peninsular FDAC would not have achieved the success it has.

Drawing on the report of the FDAC team Leader Ed Dyer as of 31st August, 24 cases had been referred to the South West FDAC and of those: 14 were active cases and 10 had been closed.  In terms of local authorities the split is:

Plymouth            -             10 Families

Torquay               -             5 families

Devon                   -            9 families

The original intention was for the SW FDAC to work with 24 families, 8 from each local authority area. This was later increased to 9 from each local authority. 

Both Devon and Torbay reported that domestic violence had been the primary issue resulting in applications to the Court rather than substance misuse and alcohol during this time and so referrals have been slow in being made to FDAC.

It was too early then to report on any conclusions regarding the effectiveness of FDAC across Devon but a national database is being developed that will in due course provide information on the outcomes for families that have been referred to FDAC. This will also provide individual outcomes for each area.

In respect of the SW FDAC the early indications were that outcomes are at least in line with (if not slightly better than) the London FDAC with regard to children remaining or being returned to their parents. The numbers, however, are very small and it is therefore far too early to draw any definitive conclusions in respect of the SW Peninsula FDAC.

Similarly with regards to cost effectiveness it is far too early to draw any conclusions. The expectation is that savings can be achieved through a reduction in the number of expert assessments, a reduction in the number of specialist residential assessments and in the longer term through a reduction in the number of foster placements. This then enables those resources to be used for other children and families in need. This would appear to be the case with the SW FDAC but there is no financial information as yet to support this.

The Centre for Justice Innovation has undertaken some modelling work based on the experience of the London FDAC in its infancy and extrapolated this to look at the picture across the SW Peninsula FDAC. It found that over a five year period for every £1 spent, £3.84 will be saved to the public purse, of which £3.52 will accrue to the local authorities.

However, nationally statistics have been reported, the first report (link below) was the follow up evaluation of outcomes 5 years on from the initial research findings of the London FDAC.

Highlighted in that report were these findings:

  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison mothers had ceased to misuse by the end of proceedings (46% vs 30%)
  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison families were re-united or continued to live together at the end of proceedings (37% vs 25%)
  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison reunification mothers (58% vs 24%) were estimated to sustain cessation over 5 year follow up.
  • A significantly higher proportion of FDAC than comparison mothers who had been reunited with their children at the end of proceedings were estimated to experience no disruption to family stability at 3 year follow up (51% vs 22%)

http://fdac.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/FDAC-Report-final-1.pdf

The second link is to a research study into the practice of problems solving courts – Practice at both Plymouth and Torquay courts were observed as part of this research

http://fdac.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Problem-solving-in-court-current-practice-in-FDACs-in-England-September-2016_BA.pdf

The full reports from both of these pieces of research are available. The links to both reports are After FDAC: outcomes 5 years later and Problem solving in court: current practice in FDACs in England – final report

Now we begin the hard work again of ensuring survival past this next year, but I really hope that the research will convince those with the decision making ability to ensure as a County we have a court going forward to benefit the families who desperately need help as it really is possible to transform the lives of the children involved.

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