Momentum in support for specialist problem-solving courts is building after further evidence of their benefits was published today.
Publishing the findings of five-year government-funded studies today, researchers from Lancaster and Brunel universities found that mothers going through London’s Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) are more likely to stay off drugs and alcohol for longer.
Researchers compared 140 FDAC cases with 100 ordinary court proceedings.
Mothers in 37% of FDAC cases were reunited with their children at the end of proceedings, compared with 25% of those going through ordinary care proceedings.
In just over half of FDAC cases, there was less family disruption in the three years after proceedings ended, compared with 22% of non-FDAC cases.
Mothers in 46% of FDAC cases stopped misusing substances at the end of proceedings, compared with 30% in ordinary care proceedings.
Those who stopped misusing substances maintained this behaviour at significantly higher proportions in the five years after care proceedings ended.
London’s FDAC was pioneered by district judge Nicholas Crichton (pictured) in 2008 to tackle parental substance misuse when it is a key element in local authority decisions to bring care proceedings.
Department for Education funding enabled a National FDAC Development Unit to be created last year to develop specialist courts across England.
Researchers observed 46 proceedings across 10 FDAC courts and interviewed 12 judges.
Describing the court as fair and humane, one judge said it gives parents ‘a real chance to change with appropriate support. Even parents who do not succeed come away acknowledging that they have had a proper chance’.
Earlier this week Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, said problem-solving courts are the only hope of bringing the ever-increasing number of care cases under control.
Repeating his support for FDAC today, Munby said: ‘I hope this research will convince any doubters that this problem-solving approach should continue to be supported, funded and, indeed, scaled up.’
Last week the ministry announced it would be exploring opportunities for problem-solving courts further with the judiciary as part of a £1bn programme to transform the justice system.
Justice minister Phillip Lee said today: ‘I am delighted to see the positive effects these innovative courts can have on keeping families together.
‘This study shows family drug and alcohol courts successfully tackle substance misuse and produce better outcomes in care proceedings.’
Youth Justice Board chair Lord McNally told a criminal justice management conference yesterday that its youth court issues group is actively examining how the board takes forward the concept of problem-solving courts.