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The Family Drug and Alcohol Court National Unit set to close from end of September

President laments government's 'failure of imagination’

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) National Unit is set to close from the end of September 2018.

Steve Bambrough, Director of the FDAC National Unit, has emphasised that the ten FDACs currently operating are not closing.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, responding to the news, said that "FDAC is one of the most important developments in family justice in the last 40 years."

He added:

"Rigorous, high quality academic evaluation, conducted by Professor Judith Harwin, has proved, conclusively, that FDAC works. … [M]ore children are reunified with parents if the case has gone through FDAC than through the normal family court, and there is significantly less subsequent breakdown. Similarly rigorous independent evaluation proves that FDAC saves the local authorities who participate significant sums of money: £2.30 for every £1 spent."

He concluded:

"What this demonstrates is, dare it be said, a failure of imagination, of vision and of commitment by government, national and local."

Steve Bambrough said:

"When we announced receipt of 'in principle' funding via social impact bond eight months ago it was with great hope that this would lead to expansion of the successful Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) model. Instead, we're now facing potential closure of the national unit at the end of September and the considerable impact this will have on vulnerable families.

"There are currently 10 FDACs working in 15 courts and serving families in 23 local authorities. FDAC sites are not closing. We hope the closure of the FDAC National Unit (the central hub established to roll out new FDACs and to support, train, quality assure and promote local FDACs) will not jeopardise the continuing viability of existing FDACs and the important work teams do to support some of the most vulnerable and marginalised parents and children in our society.

"Families who have been through FDAC are significantly more likely than families in standard care proceedings to be reunited with their children, and for the parents to have ceased misusing substances. We know this because our national unit evaluates, assesses, and works with local authorities to ensure their FDAC is working the way it should to help vulnerable families address complex problems of trauma, substance misuse, mental ill health and domestic violence. If we remove national support from the FDAC model, we could lose consistency, and possibly in the long term, quality of care for these families.

"That is not to denigrate the amazing work of our local FDAC teams in any way, but a simple reality that complex problems requires support and oversight, especially for those local authorities setting up new FDACs in the future. Without the right support we risk losing a very special service that works and has provided hope for many people in the worst of times, and we hope to be able to work with local authorities and other partners to find a solution to keeping this support going at least in some form.

"It has always been difficult to fund the unit, despite the value it adds, due to lack of multi-agency and cross government funding options. Often the cost of FDACs are born solely by local authorities when the savings the courts engender are felt throughout the system (not only in children's services, but in criminal justice, health, and beyond). We had hoped the SIBs model would help address this, but unfortunately due to a combination of factors this has not worked out."

The recently published Care Crisis Review stated:

"The FDAC pilot was evaluated using comparative methods and found to be significantly more successful than standard care proceedings in helping parents overcome their substance misuse and be reunited with their children. A follow-up of children and families from both FDAC and the comparison local authorities demonstrated that, three years on from the end of proceedings, families who had been reunified through FDAC were significantly less likely to experience problems than reunified comparison families and that, five years on, mothers were significantly less likely to have returned to substance misuse."

For the FDAC National Unit website, click here. For the President's statement, click here. For more about the Care Crisis Review, click here. For a practioners' and judge's perspective of the FDAC - written by Sarah Jennings, Esther Lieu and the late District Judge Julie Exton - click here.