Many of the families involved in care proceedings have multiple and complex needs. For example, drug and alcohol use is a major factor in nearly two-thirds of the cases in which a local authority is initiating care proceedings due to suspected child abuse or neglect.1 Moreover, some parents are repeatedly brought back in front of the courts with their subsequent children removed and put into state care (called recurrent care proceedings), with recent research suggesting that approximately 1 in 3 care applications are made regarding a mother who has already had previous children removed from their care.2 Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) try and break these patterns, providing parents with access to intensive treatment and support, while the court regularly reviews their progress. The primary aim of FDAC is to improve outcomes for children and families, ensuring that children can either live safely with parents at the end of care proceedings (reunification) or, where reunification is not possible, have the best chance for permanency and stability outside the family home.
Since the first FDAC pilot site opened in 2008, the model has been of significant interest to researchers. The initial pilot was the subject of a robust quasi-experimental outcomes evaluation3 which was later revisited to review long-term outcomes for FDAC families.4 Beyond this, there have been two mixed-methodology studies of local sites5 and a number of qualitative studies seeking to understand the functioning of the FDAC model.6 Most recently, Foundations, the Government what works centre for children’s social care, published a major national evaluation of FDAC, conducted by Natcen, which compared all cases from 14 FDAC sites with a matched comparison group, in the most comprehensive study of the model to date. Outside of the UK, the US Family Drug Treatment Court model, of which FDAC is an offshoot, has been the subject of extensive outcomes research which was brought together in a meta-analysis in 2019.7
Our review of the evidence suggests:
- There is strong evidence that being in FDAC significantly increases the likelihood of children being reunified with their parents at the end of care proceedings. There is promising evidence that the family reunifications created by FDAC are safer and more stable than those in standard proceedings. This stability is likely to cut the likelihood of recurrent care proceedings.
- There is evidence that FDAC significantly increases the number of family or kinship care placements, and decreases the likelihood that children are placed in local authority care.
- There is strong evidence that parents in FDAC are significantly more likely to become abstinent from substances by the end of proceedings than those in standard care proceedings cases, and there is promising evidence to suggest this cessation is sustained over time.
- Qualitative studies consistently report that parents in FDAC experience the court process as fair. Parents report finding FDAC judges to be supportive and respectful and value the opportunity for direct engagement in non-lawyer reviews.
- Compared to standard care proceedings, FDAC generates cashable savings for local authorities as well as providing financial benefits for other statutory agencies.
- There are promising evidence-based reasons to believe that FDAC works in ways likely to be effective in reducing the occurrence of domestic abuse, although empirical research is needed.
Based on this, the Centre believes there is a strong case for additional investment in FDAC in England and Wales so that every family who could benefit from an FDAC is able to access one.
This summary is from our FDAC evidence review, which you can access in full here.