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1.5.4 Child Protection Cases and the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter explains the role of the Family Drug and Alcohol Service and Family Drug and Alcohol Court in supporting substance misusing parents to achieve abstinence and thereby be better able to provide safe and effective care for their children.

This guidance was added to the procedures manual in June 2017.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Family Drug and Alcohol Service (FDARS)
  3. Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)
  4. FDARS Inclusion Criteria
  5. FDARS Procedure
  6. FDAC Cases


1. Introduction

Substance misuse by parents and carers is associated with poor developmental outcomes children in their care.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) has been running as part of the Inner London Family Proceedings Court (ILFPC) since around 2008. Research carried out at Brunel University has suggested that it is effective at increasing the potential for safe reunification in those cases where drug and/or alcohol misuse is a significant feature. Similar schemes have now been established in other areas of the country, and the national and local Judiciary and the Government have been keen to see similar approaches developed across the country.


2. Family Drug and Alcohol Service (FDARS)

In York the FDARS assessment and intervention model has been designed to support parent/s or carer/s achieving and maintaining complete abstinence from harmful substances.

The FDARS model is based on the local universal offer around adult substance misuse provided by Lifeline and Changing Lives. These services offer the opportunity to any adult in York who has substance misuse difficulties to achieve abstinence if they want to. It has been tailored to ‘fit’ the needs of safeguarding cases and to be consistent with legal processes and court procedures.


3. Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)

When a case is heard in Public Law proceedings that meets the criteria set out below then the Court will determine whether or not to run the care proceedings as FDAC proceedings or standard care proceedings. Any party can request that consideration is given to running the case as an FDAC case. If there is disagreement between the parties then this issue will be open to litigation. In most circumstances the decision will be made by the Judge prior to or at the Case Management Hearing.

If a case is run as an FDAC case it will be transferred to the FDAC Judge District Judge Wildesmith, who will be responsible for case management of the case throughout.

The main difference between a an FDAC proceedings and standard care proceedings, is that the FDAC is a problem solving court in which the Judge uses the authority of the court and their role to seek to proactively resolve any difficulties as, or before, they arise and also uses motivational skills to support the parent(s) or carer(s) in addressing their substance misuse difficulties. The court will typically hold fortnightly non-lawyer review hearings, to review and assess progress, to problem solve and to keep parents engaged in a process of change.

See the flow chart in the Forms Library for further details.

There are separate detailed court rules for dealing with FDAC cases which are not included here.


4. FDARS Inclusion Criteria

Where children are subject to Child Protection Plans and the primary determining feature is parental or carer substance misuse and attempts at maintenance support or harm reduction approaches have not resulted in reduced risk to children, the Local Authority, in partnership with Lifeline and Changing Lives, will apply an abstinence model for treatment. This will be mandated either through child protection plans, pre-proceedings processes or court proceedings.

4.1 Further Criteria

There are further criteria which should be applied to identify whether a case is suitable for FDARS or not as they form the basis for starting to understand a parent’s or carer’s motivation and capacity to change and to do so within the child’s timescales. If Care Proceedings are issued these further criteria will inform the Court’s decision as to whether or not proceedings should be run as FDAC or as standard care proceedings will be followed. These criteria are:

  1. Is there some solid evidence based reason to believe that the parent(s) is/are committed to making the necessary change?
  2. Is there some solid evidence based reason to believe that the parent(s) is/are able to maintain that commitment?
  3. There is some solid evidence based reason to believe that the parent(s) will be able to make the necessary change within the child’s timescales?

4.2 Exclusion Criteria

Substance misuse rarely if ever exists in isolation from other difficulties, however there are some specific co-presenting factors that either indicate against an abstinence approach being successful or of eliminating safeguarding concerns if successful. These are:

  • A parent is experiencing florid psychosis;
  • Serious domestic violence or abuse which poses a major risk to child safety;
  • History of severe domestic violence or abuse or other violence, and help offered in the past has not been accepted (low level domestic abuse often co-exists as a symptom of substance misuse and where this is the case this should not lead to exclusion from this process);
  • History of severe physical or sexual abuse of the children.

4.3 Identification of Suitable Cases

Identification of suitable cases is by social work led multi-agency assessment through the Single Assessment process either following a S47 strategy meeting or at any subsequent point during child protection planning or court proceedings. The FDARS Decision (see Forms Library) is designed to assist in determining whether a case meets the FDARS criteria.

Obviously where substance misuse is identified as the main, or determining cause of safeguarding concerns, the earlier this takes place the better. However in the early stages of assessment the significance, meaning and impact of parental substance misuse may not be fully known. In order to address this potential uncertainty the question as to whether this abstinence approach is applicable should be considered and re-examined each time the Single Assessment is updated, that is ahead of each review Child Protection Conference. 


5. FDARS Procedure

5.1 Assessment

Where a case has been identified through Single Assessment as being potentially suitable for this process, the social worker will discuss the case with the Local Authority FDARS co-ordinator, currently Principal Social Worker, Tony Holmes.

The assessment and any recommendation that FDARS may be an appropriate approach will usually be discussed at either an Initial or Review Child Protection Case Conference or at a Legal Gateway Meeting.

5.2 Involving and Informing Parents

Decisions need to be made about the timing and means by which parents will be informed and information shared with them if this has not already taken place. There is no one best way or time to do this, and it will depend on the circumstances of each case. For example this could happen:

  • In preparation for an Initial or Review Child Protection Case Conference;
  • Through a child protection Core Group Meeting;
  • At a Letter Before Proceedings Meeting;
  • In preparation for Court or following a Court Hearing.

Two simple leaflets have been prepared to help explain the process one is for parents and other carers or relatives and the other is for professionals. These are available within the Forms Library.

5.3 Assessment Planning

Once a decision has been made to follow an FDARS approach, the FDARS co-ordinator will convene a meeting between the children’s social worker, the Lead professional in Lifeline, and the Lead worker within Changing Lives. This meeting will be used to share and assess known information and to make arrangements to complete the FDARS Multi-Agency Assessment Tool (found in the Forms Library).

5.4 Assessment

Usually each agency, Children’s Social Care, Lifeline and Changing Lives, will meet the parent(s) or carer(s) separately although this could be on the same day and at the same venue. The assessment tool will be completed separately by each agency, completing sections that are relevant to them, or sections where they have relevant information. The information gathered will inform the on-going Single Assessment process, and where appropriate the preparation of the SWET.

Where this assessment is being undertaken within care proceedings to help determine if the case should be run as an FDAC case, each agency will file in court the FDARS Multi-Agency Assessment Tool completed by them.

The FDARS assessment will be completed within 5 working days of the planning meeting being held and informs the FDARS Intervention Plan.

5.5 Intervention Plan

The Intervention Plan should be drawn up by the professionals involved in the assessment, in an Intervention Planning Meeting which includes the parent(s) or carer(s). This meeting is used to go through the completed assessment and agree with the parent(s) or carer(s) specific arrangements to help achieve abstinence (detox plans) and how they will be supported to maintain abstinence once it is achieved (rehab plans). Issues around child care (including whether children should be cared for elsewhere for a period of time and if so who with), arrangements for contact with children cared for by others, housing, benefits and finance issues, and arrangements for on-going assessment (including CSC leading on assessment of the parent(s) or carer(s) capacity to change) will need to be discussed agreed and written up in the plan.

It is essential that these plans are drawn up in collaboration with the parents as this will lead to the greatest likelihood of positive progress being made.

The plans agreed in the planning meeting should be recorded in the FDARS Intervention Plan document (see Forms Library), which includes daily diary sheets which need to be populated with all the commitments that the parent(s) or carer(s) have not just those relating to FDARS. The parent(s) or carer(s) should be encouraged to sign this document. A copy of the FDARS Intervention Plan should be given to each party and shared with the Children’s Guardian and the court where care proceedings are on-going.

5.6 Detox Plans

Lifeline will be responsible for supporting community detox plans, or for commissioning residential detox placements for the parent(s) or carer(s). The decision to offer either residential or community detox is a clinical decision that is made by clinicians within the Lifeline service. This decision will be based on clinical need. 

The cost of adult placements in residential detox units will be covered through adult public health funding. If a mother and baby or whole family placement is made then the child element of funding will be met by Children’s Social Care funding. In these circumstances funding must be agreed through the Children’s Social Care Management structure.

5.7 Rehabilitation Plans

Rehabilitation support is provided by Changing Lives. This will usually take the form of attendance at pre-treatment support sessions, including mutual aid (eg alcoholics anonymous), followed by attendance at the 12 week Oak Trees programme.

The Changing Lives Oak Trees programme runs for 4 full days and one half day each week. It is only open to those who are completely abstinent from drugs, drug substitutes (e.g. methadone) and alcohol. The programme offers a psychotherapeutic programme aimed at addressing underpinning causes of addiction. The programme includes individual work and group work.

Follow on support is provided for at least 12 months after successful completion of the 12 week Oak Trees programme.

Couples - The Changing Lives Oak Trees programme is not suitable for couples to attend together. This can cause complications when there are two drug or alcohol dependent parents involved. Sometimes the detox needs of each partner are such that one partner is ready much sooner than the other to attend the Changing Lives Programme. When this is not the case and there is a need to progress treatment for each parent or partner at the same time, Changing Lives will consider offering an individual programme for one partner whilst the other follows the main Oak Trees programme.

Drug Testing - Changing Lives do not provide any drug testing. It is likely that base line hair strand tests and follow up hair strand tests will be commissioned through the FDARS process, or by the court in FDAC cases.

Where routine or random drug tests are required for parent(s) or carer(s) attending the Oak Trees Programme, Lifeline will be able to support this, although the specific requirements will need to be agreed at the Intervention Planning Stage.

Relapse - Relapse is a common occurrence in drug recovery work. The most important consideration is not whether someone relapsed or not but whether they were able to be honest about it and about how they then responded to having relapsed.

When relapse happens the person will be asked to leave the Oak Tree programme for a short period of one or two weeks, in order to protect the integrity of the programme for everyone else. They will be supported on a one to one basis whilst off the programme. If they successfully stabilise and get back to a state of abstinence they will be allowed to re-join the programme but this will not be with the same cohort, they will rejoin the next cohort coming through the programme at approximately the same point they left it.

Whilst relapse, particularly repeated relapse, may lead to a conclusion that the parent or carer is not able to change in the child’s timescales although it equally may not and this will need to be assessed on a case by case basis.

Contact - Arrangement for child care and contact will need to be considered within the context of the constraints of the Oak Tree programme. Contact provides a good opportunity to assess the quality of parent child interaction and relationship and to monitor the parent(s) or carer(s) progress.

Assessment - The Children’s Social Worker will need to continue to assess the quality of care that the parent or carer is able to provide, paying particular attention to capacity to change, particularly in relation to the quality of care giving and emotional availability. This will also need to be carefully integrated into the Intervention Plan.

5.8 Progress Review

The demands and pressures on parents who are going through drug detox and rehab processes can be considerable. One of the strengths of the traditional FDAC model is the detailed diary planning (through the intervention plan in the York FDARS approach) and frequent review and trouble shooting.

Lifeline and/or Changing Lives will complete a fortnightly Update Report (see Forms Library) and send this to the social worker and the FDARS co-ordinator if the case is not in court proceedings and to the Court if the case is in court and being managed as an FDAC case.

The Children’s social worker will also produce a fortnightly Progress Report (see Forms Library) and send this to Lifeline and Changing Lives and the FDARS co-ordinator if no proceedings and to the court if in proceedings as an FDAC case.

Where a case is not in care proceedings, progress reports will be discussed at Core Group meetings and Review Child Protection Conferences. If necessary and in order to ensure progress is maintained and emerging problems are dealt with proactively additional core group meetings will be held.

5.9 Reviewing Decision Making

If parents or carers are not motivated or engaged in the FDARS process or fail to make sufficient progress to be able to achieve a good enough standard of parenting within the child’s timescales then decisions about the need to escalate the intervention (possibly through the LGM process) will need to be made.

5.10 Decisions to Issue Care Proceedings

The decision making process and thresholds for potential FDAC cases is in principle no different to any other type of case, however the additional elements that the FDAC offers should be included in the decision making process (e.g. with a parent showing ambivalence or reluctance to change the additional motivation of court proceedings and the on-going role of the FDAC Judge may make a significant difference).


6. FDAC Cases

If the case is being run in court as FDAC there will be fortnightly review hearings which only professionals and parents attend. These hearings will be used to review progress against the intervention plan and will be informed by the fortnightly reports from drug treatment agencies and the children’s social worker. The review hearings are also used to continue to promote parental motivation and to problem solve. If there are significant issues in dispute which need to be litigated then the FDAC Judge will allocate time for a hearing with legal representatives present in order to address the issues in dispute. 

FDAC cases will only go beyond the 26 week timescales for proceedings in exceptional circumstances. It may not be possible for parents to detox and complete the Oak Tree Programme within the 26 week of care proceedings but there may be concrete evidence of motivation and capacity to change and evidence of actual change having taken place. The child’s care plan will need to take into account the extent to which this has been evidenced and also the child’s age, timescales and other needs.

Parallel permanence planning should take place in FDAC cases in the same way as in any other care proceedings case.

Where the FDAC Judge concludes part way through an FDAC case that the parents are unable or unwilling to make sufficient progress, they have the option of transferring the case back to a standard care proceedings process.

End