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Families find support in drug and alcohol court model

Misuse of drugs and alcohol features in the majority of child care cases that reach a court of law.

A new specialist court, working closely with families with drug or alcohol addicted parents, has been shown by Brunel researchers to be effective in keeping children living with their families.

Where that’s not possible, the new system has proved itself very good at finding alternative homes for children more quickly than through regular care services.

Professor Judith Harwin has led research on this new approach, which adapts a US model for managing childcare courts in cases of parental drug and alcohol misuse.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court includes a multidisciplinary team of specialists which advises the judge and supports the parents. Parents see the same judge every time they appear in the court, and the judge works directly with them without lawyers. Parents are given access to medical treatment, psychiatric support and practical assistance with issues like housing.

Professor Harwin's team found that, compared with conventional courts, when families used the Family Drug and Alcohol Court:

  • Parents received much more support from the team of specialists attached to the courts: such as substance misuse community services, parenting programmes and help with finances and housing
  • More parents stayed in treatment and made good progress to recovery which improved their chances of reuniting the family by 18%
  • Overall health and wellbeing improved for parents and children, with more parents stopping their drug and alcohol abuse
  • Children who couldn’t be reunited with their parents were placed with a permanent alternative placement much faster
  • Collaborative working involving lawyers, social workers, guardians and judges proved better for the professionals involved and provided cost savings.

The London Boroughs of Southwark and Hammersmith and Fulham, which were part of the study, have taken on this approach and the model is being rolled out across the UK.