The justice minister and head of the family division have given strong backing to an innovative problem-solving court that tackles parental drug and alcohol addiction to help keep families together.
Simon Hughes MP (pictured) praised the work of London’s Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) at a Law Society and Association of Lawyers for Children conference on Monday night. He highlighted the ‘impressive’ and ‘desirable’ feature of judicial continuity and stressed the importance of the authority of the court in the process.
The court, set up in 2008, provides a multi-agency therapeutic approach to care cases where parental substance misuse is the key element in a local authority's decision to bring proceedings.
Its running costs of £500,000 a year have been met by local authorities since central government withdrew funding in 2012.
An independent evaluation carried out by Brunel University showed the court produced better outcomes for FDAC families than those who had gone through ordinary care proceedings.
Hughes, who visited the court this month, said its success is ‘persuasive’. While its interventions are ‘costly’ the government needs to evaluate its worth not just in ‘pounds and pence, but also in social dysfunctionality’ if nothing is done to stop the revolving door of several children from the same mothers being removed into care.
‘The justice system has not been used to measuring the implications of spend and whether investment now will save money later,’ he said.
On his visit to FDAC, Hughes told the Gazette there is not an ‘unwillingness’ on the part of government to fund the court, but he said care proceedings and adoption are matters for local authorities to take the lead on.
Hughes said the 26-week time limit for resolving care proceedings, instigated in April, is not a ‘straitjacket’. In some cases, such as those going through FDAC, he said ‘justice demands a bit longer’.
‘There is a need for the justice system to be flexible, responsive and topical enough not to be hide-bound by institutional structures, but to deliver justice,’ said Hughes.
The minister also said he wants to build on the idea of contact centres in court buildings. Family courts, he said, should be ‘as welcoming as possible’ and not just a place to resolve disputes, but somewhere people can go for information, advise and assistance.
The head of the family division Sir James Munby, who has been vocal in support of FDAC, told delegates: ‘The key message is FDAC works.’
Earlier in the year, he threw down a challenge to all designated family judges to implement an FDAC-style court in their areas by 2015 or explain why they have not done so. He said: ‘FDAC is not merely the right thing for children and families; it saves money. It is one of those rare things – win, win, win all round.’
This week’s Gazette has a feature on FDAC.