Common questions about our work.  Click the “+” symbol next to each question to see the answer.

FAQs about the National Unit

+ Q - What’s the remit of the FDAC National Unit?

We have been funded for one year, from April 2015 to March 2016, with 3 main tasks:

  • to ensure that more children and families can benefit from FDAC, by supporting the creation of at least 4 new sites in England this year
  • to strengthen and improve the model through continuous learning from existing and new sites and rigorous evaluation of case information and outcomes, and
  • to help build the case for a more sustainable model for funding local FDACs.

We are working to secure continuation funding for this work, as well as to expand to five new sites each year for the next four years.

+ Q - Does FDAC work?

Tackling substance misuse is extremely difficult, for parents who opt into FDAC as well as for those who don’t. Independent evaluation shows that FDAC does better than ordinary care proceedings in helping parents overcome their drug and alcohol problems, enabling children to return home safely, and avoiding the case coming back to court.

Ongoing evaluation of the FDAC and comparison families in the original research is underway, to provide follow-up information about progress over a longer period for FDAC and comparison families where children were or were not returned home at the end of care proceedings. In reunification cases, the research questions are about continued maternal substance misuse cessation, further neglect of children, placement breakdown and return to court. For children not returning home, the questions are about the length of time taken to reach a permanent placement in line with the care plan, the number of interim placements before permanent placement, and whether the final placement is sustained.

FAQs about the FDAC model

+ Q - What does fidelity mean?

A service with fidelity to the FDAC model is one that incorporates the essential components of the model that has been evaluated and found promising. This includes judicial continuity, with the same judge hearing a case from start to finish; a specialist multi-professional team that is independent, in the sense of not “holding” local authority cases; a problem-solving approach to the entrenched difficulties that have given rise to care proceedings; non-lawyer fortnightly court reviews, to promote intensive and open communication between the judge and parents; and the availability of volunteer parent mentors to support parents.

+ Q - Is FDAC overly focused on parents?

FDAC offers children the best achievable placement in a timescale compatible with their needs. The specialist FDAC team’s work with families is based on the belief that parents almost always want what is best for their children and that some parents need to change their behaviour if they are to reassure the local authority and the court that they can provide safe and consistent care. This is why the main focus of direct work is with children’s parents, whilst also holding meetings about the children’s specific needs and doing some direct work, if indicated, and subject to other direct input from the local authority and other services.

To quote a social worker: “One of [the] strengths is that in children’s services the emphasis is on the child, and FDAC puts more of a spotlight on the parent – it offers a balance, ensuring that parents are properly assessed.”

+ Q - Does FDAC prevent recurrent harm to children returned home?

No-one would want a child to be harmed after returning home at the end of care proceedings. The evaluation of FDAC found some evidence of further neglect or abuse in the year after proceedings ended. The researchers defined “further neglect or abuse” as cases that prompted safeguarding concerns – examples included physical injury, witnessing domestic violence, being alone with a parent who was drunk, risk of sexual exploitation, being sent to school in unsuitable or dirty clothes, or being kept off school. Further neglect or abuse occurred in 25% of FDAC families (6 of 24). In the comparison families the proportion was twice as high – 56% of families (10 of 18). These findings reached statistical significance, meaning that they were unlikely to have occurred purely by chance.

A commissioner interviewed by the independent team evaluating FDAC commented: “I’m new to FDAC and the local authority, but I wonder how many of our cases where reunification didn’t work out would have lasted if help had been in place when the case ended. It’s important for us to be clear about that because it links to value for money and cost benefits.”

+ Q – Do court reviews without lawyers present deny parents justice?

A key feature of FDAC is that, once the case has got going, there are fortnightly review meetings at court for a small group of people. These meetings are an opportunity for the judge to motivate parents to make the changes they have agreed to and to reassure parents that they are serious about wanting to hear how they are doing. The meetings don’t involve any lawyers – whether representing the local authority or the child’s guardian or parents. The people present are the judge, parents, an FDAC team member, the social worker and the guardian.

The independent evaluation of FDAC found that the early worries of parents and professionals melted away as people experienced the FDAC process. Parents valued the time and space to talk to “their judge” and developed confidence in doing so. Lawyers were overwhelmingly positive about the gains for everyone from this new way of hearing care proceedings.

To quote one family solicitor: “Everyone is much more relaxed, but when you need to move into a more formal and legal mode you can.” And another: “The non-lawyer review is what gives FDAC a real handle on things and lawyers can be brought in quickly if things go wrong – this is a very important counter-balance to drift.”

FAQs about starting an FDAC

+ Q - How much does FDAC cost?

The commissioned cost of an average family going through the London FDAC process is approximately £13,000. This means that a new FDAC service will cost approximately £260,000 per year for 20 families. Additional initial start-up costs vary, depending on the situation in the new FDAC locality, but can be about £50,000. This average cost per case of £13,000 is equivalent to the charges of other multi-disciplinary teams providing assessment in care proceedings.

The cost of the team will depend on the number of staff needed and this, in turn, will depend on the likely number of cases and the availability of local services. If there are fewer local treatment services, or other parenting services, the team will need greater capacity to do more direct work with families themselves.

+ Q - Can areas set up an FDAC to deal with care proceedings triggered by parental domestic abuse?

The evaluated FDAC model was designed to respond to parental substance misuse problems that put children’s safety at risk. Most cases involve domestic abuse also and many involve parental mental health problems. Over time the London FDAC team has been developing its assessment and intervention approach in order to address this full range of entrenched difficulties that lead to care proceedings. There is scope for sites to be testing how well the FDAC problem-solving approach can be effective in cases where domestic abuse and mental health problems feature as much as, or more than, drug and alcohol misuse.

The cost of the team will depend on the number of staff needed and this, in turn, will depend on the likely number of cases and the availability of local services. If there are fewer local treatment services, or other parenting services, the team will need greater capacity to do more direct work with families themselves.

FAQs about local sites

+ Q - How many local FDACs are there?

Around the UK there are currently 9 specialist FDAC Teams, working in 12 courts and serving families in 20 local authorities in: London, Gloucestershire, Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Coventry, Kent and Medway, Southampton, Leeds, and Armagh.

+ Q - How do parents get a place in FDAC?

Parents have to be referred by the local authority and they can then opt into FDAC or choose to have their case heard in ordinary proceedings. The criteria for referral are determined as part of establishing a new FDAC service. They may vary between sites but sites generally take into account the finding of the independent evaluation that parents showing some motivation to change their behaviour are the most likely to succeed.