Note: This is general guidance, local practice may differ.

1. What is FDAC?

– FDAC is a problem-solving court designed to help tackle the issue of parental substance misuse resulting in care proceedings.

– The London FDAC was set up in 2008, with research showing (in one London survey) that cases involving parental substance abuse accounted for 62% of care proceedings. (Forrester and Harwin, 2006)

– The London FDAC took inspiration from the American FDTCs (Family Drug Treatment Courts).

– FDAC was piloted in London between 2008 and 2012 in the Central London Family Proceedings Court.

– Further pilots then emerged. The Stockport pilot, for example, is only taking 18-24 cases over a 2-year period.

– The aim of the process is to work collaboratively with the parents, the professionals and the Judge to achieve long-term success.

2. How does it work?

– Cases get referred to FDAC by the local authorities. This can happen in either pre-proceedings or upon the issue of proceedings. The parents then have to agree and sign up for the programme. Only those who show some signs of wanting to change will be referred.

– Judicial continuity is key and once the case has been accepted as an FDAC case, the same Judge will work with the family throughout the proceedings. Only Judges trained in FDAC will take these cases.

– An initial case management hearing will take place and it will be explained to the parents that they have been referred to FDAC and they have to consider whether they wish to sign up.

– The parents will then have a meeting with the FDAC team and an intervention plan will be agreed upon. This meeting is attended by the parents, social workers and the Guardian. The plan is a bespoke one that takes into account the individual challenges faced by the family and what can be done to address these.

– There will then be a further case management hearing, also known as the ‘sign up’ hearing. This will only happen if FDAC accepts the parents (following an initial assessment) and they also agree and commit to joining the programme.

– The parents then begin a ‘trial for change.’ A key worker is allocated for the parents and it is this person who coordinates the services for the family.

– Drug and alcohol testing is also carried out on a weekly basis and regular reports are completed detailing the progress of the parents.

– There is ongoing communication between the FDAC team, the parents and the Judge.

– Non-lawyer reviews take place every few weeks – these hearings involve the FDAC team, the parents and the Judge. The Judge plays an active role in the ‘problem-solving’ and tries to assist the family by finding practical, long-term solutions. The Judge will speak directly to the parents and make them feel like they are in control of the process. If domestic abuse is an issue, then the parents will be seen separately. These occur every 2 weeks after the ‘sign-up’ hearing (which is usually week 3 or 4).

– FDAC tries to bridge the gap between adult services and children’s services and get everyone working together for the benefit of the whole family.

– If the children return home to the parents at the end of the process, they are said to have ‘graduated’ and they have a ceremony to celebrate the success of the parents.

– The FDAC team will address and work through the following with the parents:

a. Presenting issues – They will ask the parent what is happening right now that is causing the local authority concern?

b. Predicting – What is likely to happen if the presenting issues are not addressed effectively?

c. Precipitating – What happens or has happened that triggers the presenting issues?

d. Predisposing – what challenges and adverse experiences have they faced now and in the past?

e. Protective – what strengths and positive factors are there that can be used to impact current issues?

f. Perpetuating – what factors are currently maintaining the presenting issues?

3. The Timetable:

Week 0 – The local authority issues proceedings.

Week 1 – Case management hearing for introductions.

Week 2 – First Initial Planning Meeting.

Week 3 – FDAC Initial parenting assessment. This identifies what needs to change and the timescales for that change.

Week 4 – Further case management hearing for the parents to sign-up to FDAC.

Around week 4-8 – A child’s needs meeting is held during this period. Parents, relatives, foster carers, teachers, therapists, the Guardian, social workers and other relevant people are invited to this. The purpose is to build up a picture of how the children are getting on.

Weeks 6, 8, 12, 14, 16 – fortnightly review reports and court minutes. These are the non-lawyer reviews.

Week 10 – Second initial planning meeting (IPM).

Week 18 – Third initial planning meeting.

Week 19 – FDAC review parenting assessment – this provides an overall assessment of whether the trial for change has been successful and whether the changes are likely to be sustained. The final version of the parenting assessment report and intervention plan – once agreed and given the authority of the court – becomes the care plan for the local authority. The aim should be to keep the report as short and focused as possible.

Week 20 – IRH and potential early hearing.

Weeks 20-50 – Potential further initial planning meetings, minutes and review.

Week 24 – Potential contested final hearing.

Week 34-50 – Potential late final hearing.

4. Who is the FDAC team?

– Team manager;

– Administrator;

– Adult mental health;

– Adult substance misuse;

– Child and family social work;

– Adult psychiatry;

– Child psychiatry/psychology;

– Parent mentors;

– Domestic abuse specialist.

5. What are the longer-term outcomes/statistics?

A study in 2016 by Brunel and Lancashire Universities found that at the end of care proceedings:

– FDAC mothers stopped misusing substances – 46% v 30% of non FDAC mothers.

– FDAC families were reunited – 37% v 25% of non FDAC families.

– 5 years after the end of care proceedings, more FDAC mothers had remained abstinent – 58% v 24% of non FDAC mothers.

6. Tips for lawyers.

– The 26 weeks is still what is aimed for but there is a more relaxed approach to this in FDAC.

– It is a very intense process and it is important that clients know this and are committed before signing up. There is a usually a positive atmosphere at the hearings, with the aim of motivating the parents to engage and make a change.

– There is a lot of information online on the FDAC website, including resource packs and a handbook – https://fdac.org.uk/information-for-professionals/

7. Is it worth the money?

– The FDAC website contains a cost-benefit analysis.

– From looking at the London FDAC, it shows that savings generated in 2014/15 exceeded the cost of the service within 2 years of the start of the case, so for each £1 spent, £2.30 was saved.

– Across the 2014/15 caseload, the London FDAC worked with 46 families at a cost of £560,000 and generated estimated gross savings of £1.29m to public sector bodies over 5 years.

8. Takeaway points:

– Based on the statistics and from comments made by FDAC Judges and practitioners, FDAC appears to present an exciting opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of families.

– The issue, as ever, will be funding and resources. However, the figures suggest that taking that short term financial hit is worth it in the long run. This is dependent upon having an eligibility criteria and an initial analysis of whether a parent is suitable for FDAC.

– One takeaway to consider in regular cases, however, is the power of collaborative working and making the parents feel that they too are drivers and not merely passengers within these life-changing proceedings.

Written by Isabel Hawkins, Pupil Barrister, Unit Chambers

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