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Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) could soon be introduced in conjunction with Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside councils to work with parents who are at risk of having their children removed due to substance misuse.
Gateshead council have accepted an additional £749,573 in central government funding to take the lead on the project.
The courts have been running in the London area since 2008, with data from the project showing positive results. 37% of parents involved with the Family Drug and Alcohol Court have been reunified with their children, compared to 25% of those within standard care proceedings.
One key function of the model is that it is independent of the local authority and the children’s social care team. Andi Parker, Commissioning Officer for health and social care at Gateshead Council said, “Our independent reviewing officer service is based within the ‘quality’ part of Gateshead Councilas opposed to the children’s and family part so they can give a better challenge to families and social workers.”
Figures have shown that three years after referral into FDAC, 19% of parents were still with their children compared to 5% of those involved in standard care proceedings.
Government funding would pay for the courts to be ran for two years, after which time it is proposed there will be an evaluation as to whether local authorities wish to continue with the scheme.
HOW an FDAC works
Cases heard in the Family Drug and Alcohol Court are classed as care proceedings, however the way the process works is slightly different to standard care proceedings.
Parents are referred into FDAC by local authorities either as part of the pre-proceedings process or at the point of issue of court proceedings. A case heard in FDAC follows the Public Law Outline with a few minor differences. At the first Case Management Hearing parents are introduced to the FDAC process and are given the opportunity to agree to a full assessment by the independent specialist team. An intervention plan is drawn up, and there is a Further Case Management Hearing 2-4 weeks later, where parents can formally agree to have their case heard in the FDAC.
Parents then begin a ‘trial for change’ following an assessment by substance misuse specialists and social workers. A plan of action is put into place at a meeting attended by the parents, social workers, and guardian. An independent team meets weekly with parents to assist them in tackling their substance misuse, with the court overlooking their progress. The team carries out frequent drug and alcohol testing throughout the intervention period, with meetings held at regular intervals and progress reports prepared for the court.
Between the standard hearings parents also attend court once per fortnight for a review with their key worker from the FDAC team, social worker, and the children’s guardian. A report from the review is drawn up along with a note from the hearing and this is circulated to all parties involved in the case.
The work of the court and the team is underpinned by the belief that parents can change and that the court has a role as an agent of change. The intervention plan is intended as ‘a trial for change’ that provides parents with the best possible chance of overcoming their substance misuse and other problems within a timescale that is compatible with their child’s needs. FDAC aims to assist families in overcoming entrenched difficulties with the court and specialist services working together to reunite families.
Sources: chroniclelive.co.uk, 27 February 2020, ‘New drug courts could help keep North East families together by supporting addicts’.