Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs) are rooted in the idea of problem-solving justice, in which courts use their authority to address the complex social issues that bring people before them. FDACs specialise in hearing cases where local authorities are applying to remove children from their families due to substance misuse. They are run by specially trained, dedicated judges who provide direct, ongoing supervision and support to parents in recovery. The judges work closely with a team of social workers, psychiatrists, substance misuse workers and other professionals who offer a personalised package of support and treatment that gives parents the chance to overcome their addiction and show that they are capable of caring for their children.
The London FDAC
The UK’s first FDAC was launched in 2008 in London and today supports more than 40 families a year. The Department for Education has supported the rollout of the FDAC model, and today eight FDAC clusters are in operation, serving 19 local authorities at 12 courts, with more sites in development.
FDAC has been shown to have better outcomes than normal care proceedings. In 2014, an evaluation report by Brunel University concluded that compared to standard proceedings:
• Children whose cases are heard in FDAC are less likely to be taken into care permanently;
• Parents in FDAC are more likely to cease their drug use;
• Children in FDAC are less likely to experience further neglect and abuse.
Value for money?
The Centre for Justice Innovation has just (8 March 2016) an assessment of the financial impact of the London FDAC.
Its analysis demonstrates that FDAC saves the state money. Across the 2014/15 caseload, the London FDAC cost £560,000 (in respect of specialist staff salaries, office costs etc.) and generated estimated gross savings of £1.29m to public sector bodies over five years. In other words, for each £1 spent, £2.30 is saved to the public purse.
These cashable savings accrue primarily from FDAC’s better outcomes: fewer children permanently removed from their families, fewer families returning to court and less substance misuse. The savings generated by FDAC exceed the cost of the service within two years of the start of the case.
In 2014/15, London FDAC initiated 46 cases at a cost per case of £12,170 on average. However, the upfront costs of the service are partially offset during proceedings because FDAC saves money on legal costs and experts witnesses and assessments. These immediate savings mean that the effective cost of the service was only £5,825 per case on average.
The Centre for Justice Innovation analysis drew on the outcomes described in the 2014 Brunel evaluation and information on costs collated from a range of sources. It concluded that in the five years following the commencement of an FDAC case the court will generate three types of long-term savings compared to standard proceedings:
- FDAC keeps more children with their families. This saves public money that would otherwise be spent on taking children into care, amounting to an average of £17,220 per case.
- Families who appear in FDAC are less likely to return to court. FDAC therefore saves money on future court costs. Savings in the cost of parents returning to court either after reunification or with future children are £2,110 per case on average.
- More parents in FDAC overcome their drug and alcohol addictions. This creates savings for the NHS due to reduced long-term need to provide drug treatment; and to the criminal justice system due to reduced drugrelated crime. These savings amount to £5,300 per case on average.
However, there are also two areas where FDAC costs more than standard proceedings. Firstly, more parents take up substance misuse treatment during the court proceedings which incurs a cost or £2,485 per case on average. Secondly, as more children remain with their families there is an additional cost of supporting those families which is on average £460 per case.
The bottom line
Taking all of these factors together, over five years the net financial saving relating to the FDAC in 2014/15 caseload is some £729,000, which equates to £15,850 per case on average.
It is good to know that the Department for Education has supported the rollout of the FDAC model, and by the end of March 2016 a total of 8 FDAC clusters will be in operation, serving 19 local authorities across 12 courts with more sites in development.
It is this sort of justice reinvestment approach which will be key to any real penal reform initiative.