Putting Families First 

Published on 06 July, 2018 | Sam Hall

Sam Hall - Hall Brown Family Law

As Family lawyers, our every action is guided by one simple premise: the best interests of the families that we represent.

Whether we’re acting on behalf of divorcing spouses, single parents or larger and more complex household environments, we are committed to doing our best to resolve the issues with which we’re confronted as swiftly and as positively as we can.

The growing caseload that we handle covers a broad range of topics and themes.

It is not, however, as specialised as that dealt with by an organisation such as the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC).

The FDAC was established in 2008 and uses a multi-disciplinary team – comprising social workers, psychiatrists, substance misuse specialists and domestic violence experts – to help prevent the children of parents addicted to narcotics or alcohol from being taken into care.

Over the last decade, it has been widely praised for the life-changing nature of its work and its astonishing success rate.

Independent academic study has also concluded that a significant proportion of parents who pass through the FDAC not only keep their families intact but are also able to stop their substance abuse.

Those figures are far higher than for individuals whose cases are dealt with via more ordinary care proceedings.

Nevertheless, the FDAC’s National Unit – the body that supports local, existing FDACs and encourages the development of new sites – finds itself in very real danger of having to close its doors as early as September.

Last month, The Times’ Legal Editor, Frances Gibb, detailed how the Department for Education – the ministry which has funded the Unit since its inception – stated that no further funding would be made available (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/pioneering-family-court-faces-closure-6w8zh6mdb?shareToken=cc1d597904c641454d656df9c1ae0126).

Nicholas Crichton, the retired district judge who helped establish the FDAC, has added his own note of concern about the potential consequences of the National Unit having to shut down (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-problem-solving-court-protects-our-most-vulnerable-children-it-must-be-supported-g5cfnjfhn?shareToken=46729fe6d48d17559995d00d35f72f1b).

Those comments have been echoed by England’s most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, who has suggested that the prospect of closure is “profoundly disturbing”.

We agree that the FDAC’s National Unit is too vital a resource and makes too important a contribution to be allowed to disappear for the sake of its £250,000 annual running costs.

Whilst that’s no small sum, the social impact – and the savings on future intervention – far outweighs the expense.

Therefore, earlier this week, we met with Mr Crichton and the Earl of Listowel, one of the FDAC’s most committed and capable parliamentary advocates.

The aim of our discussion was to advance a proposal which, we hope, will keep the FDAC National Unit functioning and help many more families.

As I’ve been telling The Times (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/law-firm-steps-in-to-help-save-family-drug-and-alcohol-court-mtk6jrtxd?shareToken=117bba9764350d6e744171b4db0dff4b), Hall Brown has decided to pledge £12,500 – five per cent of the Unit’s yearly budget – for each of the next three years and we are inviting 19 fellow family law firms to join with us and donate a similar amount.

It is a gesture which we feel would underline a collective determination to put families first.

The response has been positive. In fact, only hours after the story broke, I’m glad to say that we’ve already had our first anonymous contribution.

As this campaign launches, we are optimistic that the target will be achieved and a central part of one of the most important developments in family law in recent decades will continue to provide much-needed support.

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