Judges have praised the impact of specialist problem-solving courts on families as one opened in the Midlands this week.
The Black Country Family, Drug and Alcohol Court will cover Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley. First piloted in London in 2008, there are now 10 specialist FDAC courts, working in 13 venues and covering families in 20 local authorities.
Mrs Justice Knowles, a family liaison judge for the Midland circuit, said: ‘FDACs require a significant commitment from both local authorities and the judiciary as families have intensive multi-disciplinary support throughout the process and they meet with judges every fortnight to ensure that progress is monitored. During the last decade FDACs have continued to demonstrate positive outcomes for families in family care proceedings and are now well recognised as an important alternative for these difficult cases.’
An independent evaluation led by the University of Lancaster shows that 40% of FDAC mothers were no longer misusing substances compared to 25% in normal court proceedings; 25% of FDAC fathers no longer misused substances compared to 5% in normal proceedings.
The future of FDACs looked precarious in 2018, when former family division president Sir James Munby revealed that a national unit to support FDACs was closing due to lack of government support. However, Manchester firm Hall Brown led efforts to save the unit. Last year the Department for Education pledged £15m to keep more children out of care, which included expanding the FDAC model to new sites.
The judiciary said there are expected to be 20 FDACs across 35 local authorities and 13 family courts by April next year.
The FDAC National Advisory Board, chaired by Baroness Hallett, met for the first time last week. The group, convened by the Centre for Justice Innovation, a thinktank that has long championed problem-solving courts, will meet three times a year to discuss and shape the future of FDACs.