Addiction court transforms care proceedings in Camden and Westminster

A court that supports families struggling with drug and alcohol abuse has been praised for transforming care as it won two awards in a week.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC), which sits at Inner London Family Proceedings Court in Wells Street, Westminster, works with parents to help them gain control of their addictions – often the toughest barrier to family reconciliation.

The pioneering court is based on a US model, and early findings in America suggest the courts have been successful in enabling more children in care to return home because their parents have engaged with drug and alcohol addiction services.

FDAC service manager Sophie Kershaw said: “We have parents who don’t have any experience of being a parent and have no positive role model of what a parent should be like because their own experience has been very poor and neglectful.

“It is these families we try to help.”

Launched by Camden, Westminster and Islington Councils in 2008, the court is jointly run by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the children’s charity Coram.

Parents seen by the court usually struggle with drug and alcohol addictions and are in poor and chaotic housing conditions.

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Many will also have problems with debt and may have turned to crime to fund their addictions.

By providing these families with psychoanalytic care the team hopes to break the cycle of abuse which can devastate families.

The legal setting focuses on resolving problems through agreement rather than adversarial one-upmanship and social workers also provide ongoing support,

“You want to work with those families to do something different,” said Ms Kershaw. “We really do want to try to break that cycle. “It may not happen for that child you are dealing with, but the parent is learning something in the process which helps them down the line.”

By assigning each family a dedicated team of professionals, the court is able to avoid the delays, miscommunication and confusion that can affect traditional care proceedings.

The aim is to find the most appropriate home for the child as quickly as possible, so they can forge lasting relationships with carers.

Continuity in the professional team working with each family is also central to the court, and is reflected in its legal proceedings.

District Judge Kenneth Grant said: “One of the big problems affecting family and criminal court proceedings is that you can have many hearings and the parent always sees a different face.

How is success measured?

The judge said: “Success is either the early reunification of the family or the earliest long-term placement of the family.

“It is not always a happy ending, but it is about the long-term placement of that child as quickly as possible.”

FDAC won psychiatric team of the year in the Royal College of Psychiatrists Awards, and The Guardian’s public services award for children and families.