The Family Drug and Alcohol Court

First published: 09 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

In 2008 the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in care proceedings in England was opened. Adapted from an American model, FDAC differs radically from ordinary care proceedings because it treats as well as adjudicates. Its main aims are to help parents stop misusing drugs and alcohol so that they can be reunited safely with their children. If that is not possible, the goal is to place the children in an alternative permanent family swiftly. Early findings from the Brunel University London five year independent evaluation of the first FDAC are promising but also identify a number of challenges

The case to develop FDAC was strong because 60%-70% of all care proceedings involve parental substance misuse and further returns to court are common. Outcomes for both parents and children are frequently poor. The impact on family courts and children’s services is particularly detrimental, but repercussions on the health and criminal justice sectors are also significant.

The growth of FDACs has been substantial and today 11 sites are testing the FDAC approach. An FDAC National Unit has been funded with a grant from the DfE Social Care Innovation Fund to support new FDACs and to continue to evaluate their potential. Brunel University is leading on a further follow up all FDAC and comparison cases in the original study. In this talk, the factors that underpin this expansion are explored and the scientific and political synergies and conflicts are reviewed. The talk finishes by considering the role of FDAC in the wider strategy to tackle parental substance misuse and it identifies opportunities and challenges.

The independent evaluation of FDAC was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the current research is supported by the Department for Education.


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Professor Judith Harwin