Family court helping parents overcome substance misuse in Bedfordshire should become permanent says judge

Bedfordshire's three main local authorities have been urged to continue support for the county's family drug and alcohol court

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 12:05 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 12:12 pm

The system helping parents overcome substance misuse in Bedfordshire has proved more successful at reuniting families than care proceedings during a two-year pilot, a meeting heard.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) is into its third year now and should become permanent, according to Judge Patrick Perusko, from the Luton and Bedfordshire Family and County Court.

The judge has led the way in its development, Luton Borough Council’s scrutiny children’s services review group was told. The FDAC is a partnership between the county’s three main local authorities.

Father and child

FDAC team manager Beverley Sorensen told the group: “There’s a risk parental substance misuse can result in care proceedings being initiated and that can include the removal of children from parental care.

“Those children might struggle to adjust as they often don’t return to their families and end up spending most of their childhood in foster care,” she warned

“The FDAC is an alternative more successful form of care proceedings where there’s substance misuse by parents.

“We work on a problem-solving basis for each parent. They’ve arrived at that point more often than not through trauma and it’s a survival strategy they’ve developed, but it needs to be addressed.”

Judge Perusko explained: “We’ve an example here of fantastic working across three local authorities and co-working across public health to provide a service which produces wonderful outcomes at the cutting edge of family justice.

Read More

Read More
Bedfordshire and Luton service opens to help those suffering from birth trauma a...

“I’m sure we’ve the best FDAC nationally. There are 15 covering about 25 per cent of the country.

“In the court or family justice process, we achieve really very poor outcomes for children and families. In only 19 per cent of those standard care proceedings cases are children reunified with their parents.

“That’s dreadful. We don’t achieve the aim in 81 per cent of cases, namely to keep children within families. That’s where they thrive hopefully.

“The judge decides at the end of the case what happens to the child, and has to explain to them why they’re not good enough parents.

“Think about the emotional effect on parents of that process. In some cases, we need to remove children permanently from families where their safety demands it.

“We don’t have contested court proceedings. We deal with it in an empathetic way,” he said. “Parents know they’ve been given the best chance to succeed.

“And there are big cost savings. We don’t have expensive contested court hearings or external experts you pay for. We save on care costs if families are reunified, and other savings if we avoid criminality.

“In FDAC, the outcomes are significantly improved. Nationally outcomes are about 44 per cent of children go back home.

“In ours for Bedfordshire, 63 to 64 per cent rate of reunification in those first two years. In a year’s time it won’t be that high.

“It’s a two-year cohort of parents. We’ve seen already in this third year more challenges. It’ll probably even out at 45 or perhaps 50 per cent,” he added.

“We need in time to expand this working model. We cover about 15 per cent of cases currently.”

Councillors agreed a recommendation to support the provision of the service.