by Pia Bhopal
Birmingham Family Court have begun a pilot scheme for FDAC (Family Drug and Alcohol Court) which is an alternate court model for care proceedings. I was a part of the first hearing of this type, that took place in Birmingham this week.
The purpose of the FDAC is to help families where substance misuse is a problem and this misuse places the children at risk. Parents must be invited on to this scheme and be committed to change. Alcohol and drug misuse can be the only cause for concern.
To do this, and to provide support, the same Judge reviews the case each fortnight. At these regular, informal hearings, parents get a chance to speak to the Judge directly. There is a team of workers who are independent from the local authority, who support the Judge and help parents and their family with specialist treatment.
Parents who join the FDAC scheme are given a ‘trial for change.’ This is work with the team and other services, that gives parents the best possible change to overcome their problems. At the same time, FDAC tests whether parents can make enough change, quickly enough for the child.
In other courts where this scheme has been adopted, parents have welcomed the chance to prove themselves. It also creates the opportunity for parents and professionals to work together in a way that means everyone is clear about what must be done, when and why.
Parents sat on the first row, as opposed to the lawyers and the Judge spoke directly to them. This meant that parents were engaged and were talked to, rather than about. It was a formal yet informal hearing that worked on a clear way forward.
This is what a research study at Lancaster and Brunel Universities found:
• More parents addressed their problems by the end of the proceedings.
• More children are able to live with their parents at the end of FDAC proceedings.
• FDAC families were 50% more likely to have their children returned at the end of proceedings.
• The changes parents make are more likely to be long-term.
• When children go home, there is less neglect or abuse by parents who have been in FDAC.
• Parents have a better experience in the FDAC court process and felt they have been given the best chance possible to make the changes necessary.