Evaluation of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts

Evaluation of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts

Highlights

This large-scale evaluation of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts found several positive key findings including an increased likelihood in reunification and an increase in parents ceasing to misuse drugs. However, due to limitations with the methodology and data collection in this evaluation, we cannot attribute the effects found entirely to FDAC and we are unable to draw firm conclusions about impact of FDAC based on this study. The positive outcomes we found for cases supported by FDAC is in line with the evidence on FDAC in the wider evidence base. 

Full Report

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Implications for Policy and Practice

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Evaluation of Interventions to increase engagement with FDAC

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Post-Proceedings Support in Gloucestershire's FDAC

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FDAC Parent Mentoring Service

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Increasing engagement evaluation protocol

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Summary

A large-scale evaluation of the impact of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) as an alternative to standard care proceedings. The primary aim of FDAC is to improve outcomes for children and families in cases where there is parental drug or alcohol misuse, ensuring that children can either live safely with parents at the end of care proceedings or, where reunification is not possible, have the best chance for permanency and stability outside the family home. FDAC also aim to reduce the risk of families re-entering care proceedings at a later date. 

 

Cases are referred to FDACs by local authorities and involve specialist substance misuse professionals and social workers from the FDAC team working closely with a judge and other professionals to provide intensive support to parents, with the aim of reducing their substance misuse. FDAC teams work independently of local authorities, so are distinct from local authority children’s social care, child protection, and children in need teams. 

 

We also ran concurrent studies evaluating additional interventions to support the delivery of FDAC: 

  • A randomised control trial (RCT) of a behaviour intervention that aims to increase parental attendance and engagement with the process through parent-to-parent letters. 
  • A pilot evaluation of Gloucestershire’s Family Drug and Alcohol Court’s post-proceedings support (PPS), which focuses on providing on-going support for families after graduation from the FDAC program. 
  • A mixed-methods pilot evaluation of a parent mentoring programme – providing a volunteer parent with prior experience of FDAC as a mentor to families engaged with FDAC services – as part of the FDAC service model in two FDAC sites. 

Aims

The impact evaluation looked at the effect of FDAC proceedings on reunification for children and families at the end of care proceedings compared to standard care proceedings.  

The evaluation also aimed to test if parents who had been through the FDAC process as opposed to standard care proceedings were more likely to stop misusing substances, and also investigated if there were any differences in the rate of contested final hearings or the use of expert witnesses in proceedings. 

We also ran an implementation and process evaluation to assess how FDAC has been implemented and delivered. 

Method

We used a quasi-experimental design (QED) in which families referred to FDAC were matched with families who were not referred. We used data from nine different local authorities which all had FDAC care proceedings operating within the area, and from 13 FDAC sites. 

The IPE findings were based on 40 interviews that were undertaken with a broad range of stakeholders, including leads, support staff, members of the judiciary and parents from FDAC; as well as leads and members of the judiciary from non-FDACs. The interviews were completed across six FDAC sites. 

Key Findings

There were limitations with the methodology and data collection in this evaluation which mean that we cannot attribute the effects found entirely to FDAC and we are unable to draw firm conclusions about impact of FDAC based on this study. The positive outcomes we found for cases supported by FDAC is in line with the evidence on FDAC in the wider evidence base. 

The Department for Education and the Care Proceedings Reform Group should consider embedding evaluation, including a cost analysis, in any scale up of problem-solving approaches in family courts: We agree that there is promising evidence to support the use of problem-solving approaches in family courts, but to conclusively show the impact of FDAC, a more robust comparison, provided by either a QED with better data, or an RCT, is required. Embedding this further evaluation in any scale up would enable more families to benefit from extra support, while building the evidence Government needs to assure itself that problem-solving approaches in family courts improve outcomes and present good value for money.  

Bearing in mind the above caveat, we found: 

  • Children with a primary carer in FDAC care proceedings were more likely to be reunified with their primary carer at the end of the care proceeding in comparison to children with a primary carer in non-FDAC care proceedings (52.0% versus 12.5%). 
  • A higher proportion of FDAC than comparison parents had ceased to misuse drugs or alcohol by the end of the proceedings (33.6% versus 8.1%). 
  • The proportion of hearings being contested was lower for FDAC than standard care proceedings (4.2% versus 23.8%). 
  • A lower proportion of FDAC cases used external expert witness assessments compared with non-FDAC care proceedings (7.7% versus 96.1%). 
  • Children in FDAC sites had lower probability of being placed in LA care compared with non-FDAC care proceedings (28.6% versus 54.7%). 
  • There were no statistically significant differences between the group that received letters and control groups in relation to attendance of meetings, engagement score, abstinence from substance use or family reunification. 
  • There was very mixed evidence about the acceptability of the letters to staff and parents. Some viewed the letters as beneficial, motivational, hopeful and positive. 
  • Other staff and parents were sceptical about the value of the letters. Some parents were angry, upset, confused, or viewed the letters as validating unhelpful behaviours about substance abuse. 
  • We found that the Post Proceedings Support (PPS) model aligned with the FDAC model, using the same professional and administrative structures, and provides substantial support for parents after graduation from FDAC. It was generally well received by parents and professionals. Families who completed the PPS had higher sustained cessation, higher family reunification and lower long-term family disruption than families in previous FDAC only studies. However, it may not be sufficient for all families due to differences in the recovery process, making wider replication of the PPS model unlikely.  
  • We identified consistent positive impacts for both FDAC parents and mentors who took part in the parent mentoring intervention. For parents, enhanced parental wellbeing, resilience, engagement with FDAC and improved family functioning were observed. Mentors had improved self-confidence, life aspirations and increased capacity to ensure successful recovery. The mento-mentee relationship was also perceived positively. 

Implications for Policy

  • The learning from the process evaluation conducted as part of this study can be used to strengthen problem-solving approaches in family court: The information in the IPE around how best to establish Family Drug & Alcohol Courts and overcome the challenges in implementation should be considered when delivering problem-solving approaches in family court. 
  • Given the overall evidence base, local commissioners should consider how Family Drug & Alcohol Court can form part of their services for families, and how it would operate alongside other substance misuse services: This study, in the context of the wider evidence base, suggests that Family Drug & Alcohol courts can have a positive impact on child and family outcomes. Commissioners should consider whether a Family Drug & Alcohol Court would meet local needs.  
  • Data collection during standard care proceedings should be improved: The findings from this evaluation were weakened by the lack of data in the comparison group on parents going through standard care proceedings. This prevented more robust comparisons with parents going through Family Drug & Alcohol Court care proceedings. If more data was collected in a consistent format by local authorities, including those that do not refer to Family Drug & Alcohol Courts, this would be a significant step towards enabling a robust impact evaluation. There should also continue to be investment in the routine collection of the detailed FDAC national dataset, currently collected by the Centre for Justice Innovation.
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