This is a guest post by His Honour Andrew Berkley, Circuit Judge for the Family Court sitting at Manchester
As one of three Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) judges in Greater Manchester, I regularly hear cases involving parents who have long-standing substance use difficulties. If a parent appears genuinely motivated to address their substance and related issues once care proceedings have been issued, their suitability to work with the expert multi-disciplinary FDAC team will be robustly assessed. This can lead to them being given the opportunity to receive integrated and expert support during the court proceedings, to assist them to make lasting change for the benefit of their children as well as themselves.
Greater Manchester’s FDAC began taking cases in January 2021 following extensive preparations that had been interrupted by the first national lockdown. Stockport MBC was the first of our ten local authorities to recognise the potential value of establishing an FDAC, which in turn permitted Stockport parents to benefit from working with professionals and the court in a very different way to standard care proceedings. From an early stage, it was clear that real progress was being made by parents in both addressing the trauma they had previously suffered and in establishing abstinence from substances. As a result, more children were able to safely return to and then remain in the care of their parents and wider families. This demonstrated to some of our other local authorities the considerable advantages of working with parents in this way, and in April 2023 we welcomed Wigan Council and Manchester City Council into the Greater Manchester FDAC ‘family’. With the active support of the FDAC team and Stockport MBC, extensive training was delivered to local authority lawyers and social workers in both authorities, as well as to legal professionals throughout Greater Manchester.
Securing FDAC within Greater Manchester and extending its reach to more parents in the borough has been our principal focus throughout 2023. Broadening the funding base and strengthening its structure is fundamental to GM FDAC’s ability to survive and prosper in an increasingly challenging financial climate. To increase the size, and therefore the capacity of the GM FDAC team, it must identify and then secure access to additional funding streams, and harness the resources from stakeholders who also benefit from the success of FDAC and the families it helps. Discussions are taking place with drug and alcohol services locally, with representatives of local authority children’s services and public health departments, and even with the police and the Deputy Mayor’s office, to ensure that all those agencies touched by FDAC, and who benefit significantly from its work, are both aware of its value and of the need to support it moving forward. The recent national evaluation undertaken by Foundations, which relied in part on data from our own FDAC, has provided us with the perfect platform to seek to raise the profile of FDAC, both in Greater Manchester and beyond.
For any FDAC to come to fruition and survive, it needs to be championed by professionals who believe in its value and can attest to its benefits. Greater Manchester’s FDAC team consists of, and is led by, some extraordinarily talented and committed professionals. With support from the FDAC judges, they have been able to demonstrate to their professional colleagues and to our wider community the considerable progress that can be made by parents when they are supported to make lasting change in their behaviours, for the benefit of their children and, in many cases, the benefit of subsequent generations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the parents who have been helped to turn their lives around by working within the FDAC process are some of its most vocal proponents and are enthusiastic in adding their voices to the call to action.
A life-changing impact
The challenge of securing the long-term future of FDAC in Greater Manchester remains a real one. The hard work that has been done so far must continue well into the future if this invaluable opportunity is to become, and remain, available to all families in Greater Manchester that are affected by substance use and its associated harms. The life-changing impact of this intervention for the children concerned demands that we meet this challenge head-on and that we succeed in securing FDAC’s future, for them and their peers.