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How can I prove that I have stopped using drugs and alcohol in Care Proceedings? Considering the FDAC approach as an alternative to the traditional routes.

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Many parents who are involved in Care Proceedings before the Family Court may feel immense pressure in trying to abstain from drugs or alcohol and proving this within the restrictive time limit of the 26 week timetable of the proceedings. Parents may feel that their recovery cannot be sustained within this time period and they feel helpless in proving to the Family Court that their child(ren) should be returned to their care.

Services such as Turning Point and Multi-Systemic Therapy may assist the parents in relation to drug and alcohol testing on the ground in the community and may offer therapy or work to be completed with the person to support their withdrawal from drugs, reduce their intake or coach the person to avoid situations where they are around drug use. Through the Court Proceedings, it may be ordered that expert testing is undertaken by professionals such as Lextox who provide blood testing for alcohol and hair strand testing for alcohol and drug use. Where hair strand testing is used, a collection will be arranged and a small section of the person’s hair will be taken, segmented and analysed to show drug use on a month by month basis. Where this approach is taken, it is useful to parents who are stating that they are reducing their intake of drugs as this should be visible in the results month to month.

Concern has been raised regarding the risk that substance misuse may pose to children who are exposed to it and this has led to the development of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) which is available across 12 courts and 20 Local Authorities across the England and Wales. FDAC considers itself to be a problem solving Court which offers assistance to families to overcome issues with substance misuse in addition to issues such as mental health and domestic abuse.

The aim of FDAC is to help the parents stabilise their drug or alcohol use. The process begins with a referral for FDAC being made by the Local Authority and this referral can be made prior to proceedings being issued and the children being removed from the parent’s care. After an initial assessment, the parents will be encouraged to engage in a “trial for change” with help from a professional whom is allocated to complete work with them and to ensure that services are on hand to assist them. An intervention plan will be developed between the parents, social worker and the Children’s Guardian and this will be reviewed regularly.

The FDAC approach is considered different to the traditional Family Court Care Proceedings namely because the case will be heard by the same Judge throughout, allowing the parents to develop a relationship and element of trust with the key decision maker in their case. Parents also receive a wide range of support from a multi-disciplinary team connected to the Court to cover parenting capacity, alcohol and drug misuse, housing, domestic violence and any other issues which is often linked to the use misuse of drugs or alcohol. Parents will also receive regular drug testing from the team at FDAC and updates on the case will regularly be relayed to the Judge rather than just at the formal Court hearings. As there are regular progress intervention meetings, the parents will attend Court around every 2 weeks rather than going for a substantial period of time between Court hearings.  Parents will not be legally represented at the review meetings due to their informal nature.

The FDAC website states “the FDAC model strengthens the motivation of parents to overcome their problems…working successfully with social workers, adult treatment services and judges…to help them overcome entrenched difficulties.” The system enables the parents to take control of their own recovery and take action to ensure that their children either remain in their care or are returned to them at a later date. FDAC is not yet offered across the whole of England and Wales and therefore not all Local Authorities can make a referral for this unique Court process but it is considered a more successful alternative to the traditional Family Court Care Proceedings in terms of keeping families together.

If you have Local Authority involvement with your children at Child Protection level ranging through to Care Proceedings in the Family Court then Emery Johnson Astills can assist you. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement and we have in-depth knowledge of drug and alcohol misuse and can advise you in relation to the services that can support you in taking your first steps towards abstinence. We also have a close working relationship with the drug testing services which are regularly used in the Family Court such as Lextox. Please contact Emery Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please visit either of the above offices or email us on careteam@johnsonastills.com and a member of our team will be happy to assist you