The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) is an alternative, and more successful according to research, form of care proceedings.
FDAC North East is a partnership between Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council and North Tyneside Council.
The Family Drug and Alcohol Court helps families where children are put at risk by parental substance misuse. The Family Drug and Alcohol Court adopts a problem-solving therapeutic approach that aims to improve outcomes for children involved in care proceedings, by supporting parents to address their substance misuse and related problems, for example, mental health difficulties and domestic abuse.
FDAC is a problem-solving court where the same judge reviews the case every fortnight and is supported by FDAC Intervention Team.
The FDAC team delivers a trauma-informed approach that aims to help to develop parents' understanding of the difficulties that have put their children at risk of serious harm as well as supporting them to engage with an intervention plan developed to meet their specific needs. The goal of the FDAC team is to support parents to overcome their difficulties within the timescales of Children's Services and Court's timescales.
What is the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)?
The Family Drug and Alcohol Court helps families where children are put at risk by the substance misuse of their parents, or substance misuse and domestic abuse. FDAC works with the whole family and keeps children at the centre of everyone’s thinking.
The FDAC court is different from other courts. It is all about trying to solve the problems that have led the local authority to bring you to court. To do this, the same Judge reviews your child’s case every fortnight. There is an independent team of workers to support the Judge and to help you and your family.
Parents who join FDAC are given what we call ‘a trial for change’. This involves working with the FDAC team and with other services to give you the best possible chance to overcome your difficulties. At the same time, FDAC tests whether you can make enough change in time for what your child or children need. We find that most parents welcome this chance to prove themselves. It also gets parents and professionals working together in a way that means everyone is clear about what must be done, why this needs to happen, and when this should be achieved by.
FDAC gets much better results than when parents go to court in normal care proceedings. This is what a research study at Brunel University has found.
- More parents had solved their problems by the end of their care proceedings.
- 40% of FDAC mothers were no longer misusing drugs and alcohol, compared to 25% of the mothers in normal care proceedings.
- 25% of FDAC fathers were no longer misusing drugs and alcohol, compared to 5% of the fathers in normal care proceedings.
- More children are able to live with their parents at the end of FDAC proceedings.
- This was so for 35% of FDAC mothers, compared to 19% of the mothers in normal care proceedings.
- When children go home, there is less neglect or abuse by parents who have been in FDAC.
- A year or more after proceedings had finished in 56 % of families there was further neglect or abuse of the children who had been through normal care proceedings. This figure was 25% of FDAC families.
- The research said that parents were overwhelmingly positive about the FDAC team. The team motivated and engaged parents. They listened to them and did not ‘judge’ them. They were honest with them and were both ’strict’ and ‘kind’. The team gave parents practical and emotional support, and they made sure that everyone was helping parents stick with their plan of work.
- You can read more about the research if you click on this link: https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/5909
We believe that the best result is that families overcome their difficulties and raise healthy and happy children. Sometimes that is not possible, and then we have to try to help children find a different home to grow up in. We also help parents keep going to try to overcome their difficulties. We hope this will help them stay involved with their children if possible.
Why have you been invited to join FDAC?
The local authorities look at all the cases that they are taking to court to see which ones are suitable for FDAC. A case might be suitable:
- Because parental substance misuse or substance misuse and domestic abuse is the local authority’s main worry, or one of their main worries.
- Or because parents are showing real signs that they want to make changes to their life.
Do parents get a choice about joining FDAC?
Yes, it is up to you. You can join FDAC right away. Or you can say you want your case to go into normal care proceedings. Or you can take a bit of time to decide what to do. Your solicitor will give you advice about all of this. At the first court hearing, the judge will ask if you want to do the first FDAC assessment. If you say yes, you will start your journey with the FDAC team.
What happens next?
Between the first and second court hearing you will have an assessment day at the FDAC office, and you have a meeting with us that we call the Intervention Planning Meeting. This is where the FDAC team will work with you to agree on a plan of work. We call this the Intervention Plan. The assessment and the Intervention Plan are written up as a report, and you can discuss this report with your solicitor and any other person.
When the Plan is agreed upon, the judge will say this is what everyone is going to follow. This usually happens at the second court hearing, two weeks after your case starts in court. The judge then expects everyone to do their best to follow the intervention plan. To show that you are committed to your actions in the plan, the judge will ask you to sign an agreement to be open and honest with the team and the court and be agreeable to sharing information.
After the second hearing, the ‘trial for change’ begins. As part of this, you will have a meeting at court every fortnight with the FDAC judge. The FDAC team will write a short report to brief the Judge before you see them. These meetings are to encourage you in your work, to see how things are going, and to check that the Intervention Plan is still right for you. This is also the time to solve any problems along the way and to make decisions about the best plan for your child, and to do so as quickly as is possible.
What happens if you say ‘no’ to FDAC?
If by the second hearing of FDAC you are not happy with what FDAC is offering you, you can opt-out and your case will go into normal care proceedings instead. If you have any questions, you can talk to your solicitor or the FDAC team.
Who will I see at court?
The same judge, or one of a small team of judges, oversees what happens on your case. The FDAC judges are trained to help families stay motivated and get better at taking charge of their lives and solving problems. There will be some court hearings with your solicitor and other solicitors involved but you will also have regular meetings at court (every fortnight) without any of the solicitors. This sort of hearing is called a Progress Review. It is your chance to talk to the Judge for up to 15 minutes each time, about what is going well and not so well with the Intervention Plan, and what to do about any problems you are having. Once parents get used to this, most find that it is a good way of having their say and feel in control of what is going to happen next. A member of the FDAC team will support you at these meetings too.
The FDAC team
You will get help from the FDAC Intervention Team who assessed you and helped to develop your Intervention Plan. The team includes people with different skills, which is why it is called ‘a multidisciplinary team’. It has a Child Protection Social Worker, Substance Misuse worker, and Mental Health Worker, in the future there will be Parent Mentors. There is also a Psychiatrist and Psychologist who work with the FDAC team to enable us to offer you the support you need.
FDAC have access to volunteers called Parent Mentors. They have overcome drug or alcohol problems in their lives, and some have been involved in care proceedings. Increasingly some will have been through FDAC. Parent Mentors can provide parents with support, encouragement, and reassurance when they are at court, or being assessed, or working on their Intervention Plan.
What help will I get from FDAC?
The FDAC team will do a series of assessments about your family’s strengths and any concerns.
- The initial assessment is completed in the first two weeks of proceedings. It helps identify the timescales for your children, develop your goals, and what intervention and support you will get in the next 4 to 8 weeks to achieve these goals. This will be reviewed each time you go to court or have a Review Intervention Planning Meeting with FDAC Judge and team.
- Every two weeks the team writes a short review report about what is going well and not so well in your case. It will comment on things like your attendance for intervention sessions and the results of drug and alcohol testing, and what else may need to happen to help you stay on track.
- During the first 8 weeks of FDAC, our Child and Adolescent Psychologist will have a meeting with parents, foster carers, teachers, social workers, guardians, and others. This is to better understand your children’s needs.
- Where the FDAC assessment identifies a parent’s experiences difficulties with their mental health they will have a psychiatric screen to help identify appropriate support.
- An assessment of a parents’ relationship with their children and their ability to meet their children’s needs will be done once parents have been abstinent for some months and have made some progress with their own problems.
- By the time of the third Intervention Planning Meeting (normally18 weeks into the case) the FDAC Intervention team will say whether parents have made enough progress for their child to live with them permanently. The team will report on this assessment no later than week 19 of the case. The court will then hold an Issues Resolution Hearing (normally week 20) to decide when to bring the proceedings to an end. This might need a contested court hearing. If so, that would be before week 26. Or the team might recommend to the court, that the case should continue beyond 26 weeks if, say, time is needed to check on children who have recently been returned home.
- If a case goes beyond 26 weeks there will be extra hearings and review Reports, with a final report completed for the final hearing.
What sort of interventions and support will be written into my Intervention Plan?
This will depend upon what kind of help and support you and your family need. The FDAC team will work with you and with services in your area. The interventions will involve working on the four following areas of your life.
1. Abstinence: Parents get support and advice on becoming and maintaining a drug and alcohol-free life. This will include working with your existing drug and alcohol treatment service in your area and may include community programs that provide individual and group education and advice about what triggers this behaviour, and how to manage these situations better to help you stay drug and alcohol-free.
2. Understanding & repair: Parents get support, advice, and interventions to help them understand the problems that might be causing substance misuse, domestic abuse, and mental health difficulties. Nearly all parents who use FDAC need help to find safer ways of dealing with how difficult life events have affected them.
Many children need help to make sense of the disruption to their life that is caused by their parents’ difficulties and have led to care proceedings. Some parents and children need support managing mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder. This may involve working with your GP and other local services in your area, for example, support groups or counselling services. The FDAC team will support your engagement with these services and help you to overcome barriers to accessing the help you need.
3. Strengthening relationships: Parents are supported to be more sensitive and responsive with their children and to strengthen their relationships with other adults, such as their partner, the child’s other parent, and the wider family.
4. A lifestyle where the child is at the centre: Families are helped to develop a lifestyle that enables parents to give high priority to the needs of their children. This might include help to find education and training that enables parents to care for their children and be engaged in other meaningful activities.
How long does FDAC take?
The FDAC work must fit with two different timescales. One timescale is about what is right for each child and the other is about what the court process requires.
The very best result from your time in FDAC is that you overcome your problems in time to meet your children’s needs. The question is how long your children can wait for the situation at home to improve. The answer is that we can’t wait too long as your children may miss out on the second-best result. This might be getting settled with a member of your wider family, or being adopted, or living with foster carers.
When we talk about ‘the children’s timescales’ we mean the time by when a decision must be made for your child, based on their age and needs. The court also has a timescale. A limit of 26 weeks has been set for finishing care proceedings. This is what is expected for those FDAC cases where children will not be returning home to their parents. If families are making good progress in FDAC the court will usually allow proceedings to go on beyond 26 weeks to test out plans for children to return to parents’ care.
What will be expected of me if I join FDAC?
We believe that no parent wants to cause their child to suffer and that every family experiencing difficulty wants their life to get better. Parents can struggle to know how best to sort things out themselves and can be afraid that if they ask for help, they will be judged badly and punished. We find that things work best when everyone is open and honest. This means families and professionals alike.
We know that we must earn a parent’s trust and respect. We find it helps if everyone knows exactly what to expect and what they have to do. So, we tell parents and professionals what they can expect from us and what we expect from them. Under FDAC, families have achieved amazing things. This is because they have discovered how to reach out for help and how to work as part of a team and be honest about their struggles.
We want to take your wish for something better and tell you: “You are not alone now, you can do it, and we will help you do it”. At the same time, the Judge will be saying: “You have to do it, whatever you do there will be consequences”.
For further information contact Dominic Wilson, FDAC North East: Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, on 07394 402 522 or email email@example.com
Introduction to the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)
The Family Drug and Alcohol Court helps families where children are put at risk by parental substance misuse. FDAC is a problem solving court where the same judge reviews the case every fortnight and is supported by an independent multi-disciplinary Intervention Team.
FDAC works with the whole family while keeping the child central. Parents are given ‘a trial for change’ that provides them with the best possible chance to overcome their problems. At the same time FDAC tests whether the family can make enough change in a timescale compatible with the children’s needs.
FDAC achieved significantly better outcomes than normal proceedings in an independent evaluation led by Lancaster University:
- More parents overcame their problems by the end of proceedings.
- 40% of FDAC mothers were no longer misusing substances, compared to 25% of the comparison mothers.
- 25% of FDAC fathers were no longer misusing substances, compared to 5% of the comparison fathers
- More children remained with or returned to their parents at the end of proceedings. 35% of FDAC mothers stopped misusing and were reunited with their children, compared to 19% of the comparison mothers
- 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 comparison families
The researchers said “Parents were overwhelmingly positive about the FDAC team for motivating and engaging them, listening to them and not ‘judging’ them, being honest with them, being both ’strict’ and ‘kind’, providing practical and emotional support, and coordinating their individual plans.”
You can read more about the research if you click on this links: (Harwin et al 2014) http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/cfj-fdac/publications/
In a recent judgement the President of the Family Division of the High Court said of FDAC ‘The FDAC approach is crucially important. The simple reality is that FDAC works … FDAC is, it must be, a vital component in the new Family Court.’
Re S (A Child)  EWCC B44 (Fam),  2 FLR, at paras -
Selection - the cases that go through the Court
Suitable cases are identified by Local Authorities and referred to FDAC. The usual threshold for proceedings applies. If a family is selected for the FDAC they will be given written information before the first hearing, and meet the FDAC team at the first hearing. The FDAC is voluntary and if parents do not wish to proceed, their case will be heard in the usual family proceedings court.
Similarly, if a referral is not accepted, families will enter the family proceedings court instead.
FDAC is most likely to help families who are already demonstrating some willingness to change. There must be a history of parental drug or alcohol misuse that is impacting on, or likely to impact on, the children’s health and development. However, most families have additional problems such as domestic abuse and parental mental health difficulties. FDAC can work with some families in pre-proceedings especially during pregnancy.
There are only a limited number of places available in FDAC for each Borough.
Choice for the families
A family may choose to go through the normal care proceedings route. They might do this for any number of reasons, but they should be advised that families with a willingness to change are likely to achieve better outcomes via FDAC.
Like any care proceedings, there is still a potential for the family to lose their children, but the FDAC process has been set up to encourage success and to be as supportive as possible. Whilst they must take the process seriously, as they would do for normal care proceedings, families need not be fearful that the FDAC is there to trap or trick them in any way.
Once a family is chosen they do not have to make a decision immediately. They will be asked at the first hearing (Case Management Hearing CMH) if they want to undertake the initial FDAC assessment; it begins immediately if they do. The family will be encouraged to talk to their solicitor and the FDAC team if they have any doubts or questions over the process.
Between the first and second hearing they will take part in an assessment day and an Intervention Planning Meeting where the FDAC Intervention Team will help the parties agree a plan which is given the court’s authority at the second Court hearing (Further Case Management Hearing FCMH) usually at the 2nd or 3rd week in proceedings).
After the second hearing, the ‘trial for change’ officially begins and the subsequent fortnightly hearings will be used to provide encouragement, review progress, review the Intervention Plan, problem solve any difficulties that arise and make decisions in order to reach permanency as quickly as possible.
Make up of the FDAC team
The same judge, or one of a small team of FDAC judges, will oversee the whole process and offer support and encouragement.
The family will also receive support from the FDAC Intervention team who will coordinate the intervention plan. This is a multi-disciplinary team, which includes:
- social workers
- parental substance misuse worker
- mental health worker
There is also a child and adolescent psychological consultation and parental psychiatric screening (as identified as necessary).
FDAC will collaborate with other local services such as housing and therapeutic agencies.
Parent mentors can be provided. Parent mentors are volunteers with a history of recovering from addiction and in many cases, they have experience of care proceedings. Increasingly parent mentors will be graduates of FDAC.
A parent mentor may be present during the court, assessment and intervention periods to provide support, encouragement and reassurance.
The court process is slightly different from normal proceedings.
As well as the initial hearing there is a case management hearing (CMH). This allows families the opportunity to be introduced to the FDAC process at the initial hearing and have an assessment before being asked to commit themselves at the second hearing (CMH).
As a part of that commitment the judge will ask the parents to sign an undertaking to be open and honest.
The family will work with the same judge from the CMH onwards. If for some reason the family’s judge is away, the family will see a substitute FDAC judge.
The parties will be fully represented by their lawyers at the initial hearing, CMH and subsequent issues resolution hearing (IRH).
However, between the CMH (normally the fourth week of proceedings) and the IRH (normally the twentieth week of proceedings), the family will attend court for a non-lawyer review once a fortnight.
The FDAC Intervention team will brief the judge about the case prior to the non-lawyer review and produce a short review report, which is shared with all the parties.
In court the parents will normally talk directly with the Judge for up to half an hour. A short note of what is said is prepared by the FDAC Intervention Team and distributed to the parties.
If the case is proceeding according to plan the next court attendance will normally be another non-lawyer review. However, if there is a problem, the judge or any of the parties can ask for the matter to return with lawyers at the next hearing.
The FDAC judges are specially trained in helping families stay motivated and get better at taking charge of their own lives and solving problems. In practice parents find the non-lawyer reviews a little daunting at first. However, when things go well, they are enormously important to the parents’ sense of self-respect and agency.
The FDAC Intervention team will carry out a series of comprehensive assessments of the family’s strengths and any concerns.
- The initial assessment is completed within the first three weeks of proceedings and will identify the timescales for the children, the parents’ goals and the treatment and support that will be provided in the next four to eight weeks.
- This plan will be reviewed in court every two weeks and modified and added to at review intervention planning meetings, which occur every four to eight weeks.
- Every two weeks FDAC will provide a short review report on what is going well and not going well about the intervention plan including attendance for treatment and the results of drug and alcohol testing.
- Sometime in the first eight weeks of the proceedings the FDAC children’s needs meeting will be held. The child and adolescent psychologist consultation will inform this meeting. The children’s needs meeting will identify the children’s needs and will include:
- the parents
- foster carers
- child's social worker
- potentially others
The minutes will be submitted. Where necessary, a full child psychiatric assessment may be applied for in court.
- Where the initial FDAC assessment identifies concerns about mental health, parents will have a psychiatric screen. The report will be submitted.
- An assessment of the parents’ relationship with their children and capacity to meet their children’s needs will be undertaken once parents have been abstinent for some months and made some progress with their own problems.
- By the third intervention planning meeting (normally the eighteenth week in proceedings) the FDAC Intervention team will advise whether parents have made enough progress for their child to be permanently placed in their care.
- The Intervention team will report on this assessment no later than the nineteenth week of proceedings. The court will then hold an issues resolution hearing (normally by the twenty fourth week of proceedings) to decide when to bring the proceedings to an end.
- This may require a contested final hearing some time before the twenty sixth week of proceedings.
- Alternatively, the decision may be to continue the proceedings beyond the 26-week mark, for example, to allow time to check on children who are returned home.
- For cases that continue beyond the 26-week mark there will be more hearings and review reports and a final report for the final hearing.
The FDAC Intervention Team will put in place a range of interventions drawn from the resources in the family’s local authority of residence supplemented by intervention provided by the team. The interventions will be matched to the needs of the individual family but are likely to involve the following:
Abstinence: parents will be given support and advice on being abstinent from street drugs and alcohol and abstaining from domestic abuse and criminal activity (for example, community drug and alcohol programmes providing individual and group education and advice on triggers and relapse prevention).
Understanding and repair: parents will be given support, advice and treatment on understanding the problems underlying any substance misuse, domestic abuse and mental health problems. Nearly all parents need help finding safer ways of dealing with the effects of trauma.
Many children need help to make sense of the disruptions created by their parent’s difficulties and the intervention of the court. Some parents and children need treatment for mental health problems including anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. (For example, parents may be encouraged to attend community based intensive treatment programmes or an anxiety group).
Strengthening relationships: parents will be helped to be more sensitive and responsive with their children and strengthen parents’ relationships with each other and the wider family.
Child centred lifestyle: families will be helped to develop a lifestyle that prioritises children’s needs. This could include education and training that will allow parents to work.
The FDAC process is geared to two different timescales: the timescales for the child and the timescales for the court.
Where parents are not meeting their children’s needs the question becomes how long can those children afford to wait for the situation to improve? The answer is that it depends on the children’s age and developmental stage.
We call these periods of acceptable delay the ‘children’s timescales’. For example, with new-born babies we aim to have the child permanently placed by the time they are 12 months old. This is because of the importance of attachment. The sensitive period when children most naturally form an attachment is between 6 and 18 months.
Therefore, we want children to have settled with their long-term carer inside that sensitive window. This means deciding whether children can return home before they are nine months old. That leaves a further three months to either see how they get on at home or find an alternative permanent placement with extended family or adopters.
With older children timescales are less critical. We are mindful that (if permanency in their family’s care is not possible) adoption is less likely to be successful with children beyond the age of five to six. Similarly, children find it difficult to put down roots in a foster family much beyond the age of nine to ten.
The court also has timescales. Just as in normal proceedings, the expectation in FDAC is that proceedings will end within 26 weeks when children are not returning home to their parents.
However, the president of the Family Division has cited families making progress in FDAC as one of the reasons the court might allow proceedings to go beyond the 26-week mark. The table in the attached PDF sets out the timetable for the court and how this fits with the assessments and intervention.
Expectations of the families
We believe that no parent wants to cause their child to suffer and that every family in difficulty wants things to get better. However, parents often don’t know how to sort things out and fear that if they ask for help, they will be judged and punished.
We find things work best when families are able to be open and honest and do their best to work with the trial for change. We hope they will find they are treated with respect and compassion.
Role of the child’s social worker
The child’s social worker’s task to protect the child is unchanged. We ask children’s social workers to support the family’s trial for change.
It's important that the local authority feels satisfied that the expectations on the family are sufficiently demanding to test whether parents have made enough change to be able to meet their children’s needs for the foreseeable future.
At a more practical level children’s social workers will be expected to attend:
- lawyer and non-lawyer hearings
- intervention planning meetings
- child’s needs meeting
We would expect the team manager to attend intervention planning meetings, lawyer hearings and they are welcome to attend the non-lawyer reviews.
Role of other professionals
Drug and alcohol recovery workers, domestic abuse and mental health services, housing and others play a vital part in working together to give families the best possible chance to overcome their problems.
We will have written permission from the families to be able to communicate with you. The FDAC Intervention team will want to stay in close contact and gather regular updates from professionals for the fortnightly non-lawyer reviews.
On occasions such professionals may be invited to attend the non-lawyer reviews.
Role of lawyers in FDAC
The role of the lawyers to advise and represent the parties is unchanged.
For further information contact Dominic Wilson, FDAC North East: Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, on 07394 402 522 or email firstname.lastname@example.org