Based on the considerable evidence behind problem solving and justice and procedural fairness, FDAC harnesses the motivating power of direct and ongoing supervision of parents in recovery by a specially trained and dedicated judge who has access to a multi-disciplinary team offering personalised care and treatment to families at risk. FDAC is rooted in the idea of problem-solving justice, where courts use their authority to address the complex social issues that bring people people them. The court is run by specially trained and dedicated judges who provide direct, ongoing supervision and support to parents in recovery. They work closely with a multi-disciplinary team who offer personalised care and treatment to families at risk.
FDAC is one of the most successful examples of problem-solving court innovation in England and Wales in recent years. It has cleared four major hurdles at which many other well-designed and well-executed pilots fall. First, FDAC has successfully adapted an American problem-solving court model, carefully tailoring it to fit in with its specific London environment. Second, through an independent evaluation, it has generated clear and robust evidence of positive impact. Third, it has successfully transitioned from being a pilot underwritten by central government into a sustainable innovative part of local service delivery. Last, recognition of its value is leading to its replication: acknowledgement of its successes in the 2011 Family Justice Review which has led to further funding being offered to test its approach in other parts of England and Wales.
Our research has identified a number of key strategies adopted during this period which contributed to success:
Targeting a clearly defined and well-evidenced problem, relevant to policymakers and local commissioners: The high incidence of parental substance misuse in care proceedings in inner London (64% of cases), and the poor outcomes for children were well-documented. At a policy level, the issue of parental substance misuse was highly salient following the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ Hidden Harm report and remains a government focus.
Bringing together a coalition with a diverse range expertise and authority: The foundation of FDAC was driven by a steering group which included judges, courts service managers, senior local authority staff, and government officials who shared a common goal.
Drawing on evidence to identify promising models: FDAC was inspired by California’s Family Drug Treatment Courts, which are a well-evidenced and successful intervention.
Developing a locally tailored solution: A significant investment was made in a feasibility study which significantly adapted the US model to meet the specific context.
Building evaluation into the project from the start: An academic evaluator was part of the project steering group from the start and an independently funded evaluation was launched with the project.
Making new use of existing resources: The court element of the FDAC service was delivered by creatively redeploying the court’s existing resources, reducing the cost of the pilot.
Identifying immediate cost savings: Demonstrating that FDAC delivered immediate savings for local authorities in terms of averted spending was a key factor in securing long-term funding.
We believe that other practitioners seeking to develop innovative projects both in the problem-solving courts arena and more broadly would be well advised to consider whether these strategies are applicable to their own projects.
This paper is part of the Better Courts programme, a partnership between the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and the Centre for Justice Innovation which seeks to support and promote innovative practice in the criminal courts of England and Wales.