Skip to Content

More to benefit from specialist family drug and alcohol courts


Specialist courts that tackle the widespread problem of parental substance misuse in care proceedings will be rolled out to new areas of the country after an independent evaluation by Brunel University London found the pilot programme to be a success.

Judith Harwin, Professor of Social Work and Director of the Centre for Child and Youth Research at Brunel University London, led the five-year evaluation of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in England.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation and the Home Office, the evaluation found that the new approach to care proceedings was more likely than ordinary proceedings to help parents stop misusing and be reunited with their children.

Rates of fresh neglect or abuse in the first year following reunification were also lower among FDAC families than those who had gone through ordinary care proceedings.

Now the Department of Education (DfE) has announced that an estimated £2.5 million of funding is available to develop a National FDAC Development Unitand to nurture new courts across the country.

Prof Harwin, who will be carrying out research within the FDAC Development Unit, said: “Our independent evaluation found that FDAC is effective in helping to break the cycle of harm caused by parental substance abuse. This approach helps reduce the number of children taken into care and enables more families to stay together.

“The evidence provides compelling support for rolling out FDAC more widely. Thanks to the DfE, there is now a significant opportunity to research the sustainability of FDAC over the longer term. This is a brilliant example of how research, policy and service development are working together to intercept the corrosive cycle of parental substance misuse.”

The national FDAC unit will be based at Coram Campus, where FDAC London is currently located, and will be led by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, supported by partner organisations, Brunel University London, Centre for Justice Innovation, Coram, Manchester University and RyanTunnardBrown.

It is expected to support a potential eight new sites in the first year, with Kent & Medway; Coventry; Plymouth, Torbay & Exeter, Leeds & West Yorkshire all committed to opening FDACs in the financial year 2015/16. The learning and implementation of FDAC will continue nationally and the model will be tested and evaluated at every FDAC site across the country.

Brunel’s independent evaluation team found that FDAC families had a higher rate of stopping substance abuse than people who had been through normal care proceedings, with 40% of mothers stopping, compared to 25%.

In 35% of cases, FDAC mothers stopped misusing and were reunited with their mothers, compared to 19% who had been through ordinary care proceedings.

For more information about the research at Brunel, visit