Piloting a Family Drug Treatment Court program in Victoria

Piloting a Family Drug Treatment Court program in Victoria

4 June 2013

Magistrate Gregory Levine of the Children’s Court of Victoria has recently been engaged in discussions with stakeholders and is working towards securing appropriate funding and resourcing for the establishment of a Pilot Family Drug Treatment Court program in the Children’s Court.

A coordinated and holistic approach in child protection cases, directed at providing parents with ‘systematic support’, would encourage timely resolution and greater stability for children in the child protection system.1

This was the conclusion reached by Magistrate Levine after research into the operation of Family Drug Treatment Courts in the United States and United Kingdom.

Child protection proceedings in Victoria often result in orders providing for parents to participate in drug rehabilitation programs and/or family violence counselling, and may include referrals for assistance with health and housing issues.

However, there is currently limited communication and coordination between the various agencies accessed by parents pursuant to these protection orders, with ‘poor outcomes from this traditional approach to family reunification for substance-abusing parents.2

Based on similar projects overseas, a Family Drug Treatment Court program in Australia could include the following features:

  • Voluntary participation.
  • Comprehensive case management and a problem-solving approach. A specialist, multidisciplinary team is attached to the court and coordinates a wide range of agencies, develops a treatment plan, and coordinates access to the services identified as necessary for the family.3
  • The use of a docket system, where each case is allocated to a single judicial officer for its duration, encouraging ‘consistency, familiarity and continuity’.4
  • Regular meetings of the multi-disciplinary team and case reviews undertaken by the judicial officer and team members, together with frequent court hearings that enable close monitoring of parents’ rehabilitation and progression and the operation of the treatment plan.5
  • Quicker, child-focused time lines (approximately 12 months) aimed at reaching the goal of family reunification as the preferred outcome, or where reunification is not possible, for permanent placement outside the home to be made without delay.6

Research in both the United States and the United Kingdom has identified Family and Drug Treatment Court programs as effective in improving the commencement and completion of substance abuse treatment.7 Findings include:

  • Children of parents participating in Family and Drug Treatment Court programs spend ‘significantly less time in out-of-home care;8
  • Family reunification rates were 20 to 40 per cent higher for participating families than for those in the comparison groups;9 and
  • Family and Drug Treatment Court programs were found to be cost effective.10

For more information see Gregory Levine, A Study of Family Drug Treatment Courts in the United States and the United Kingdom: Giving parents and children the best chance of reunification (The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia, 2012).

References:

Gregory Levine, A Study of Family Drug Treatment Courts in the United States and the United Kingdom: Giving parents and children the best chance of reunification (The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia, 2012)

Judith Harwin, Mary Ryan, Jo Tunnard, Subhash Pokhrel, Bachar Alrouh, Carla Matias and Momenian-Schneider (FDAC Research Team, Brunel University), The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) Evaluation Project – Highlights from the Final Report (Nuffield Foundation, May 2011)

Greg Levine and Barbara Kamler, A Study of Family Drug Treatment Courts in the US and UK: Winston Churchill Fellowship (Paper presented at the Child Protection Legal Forum, Melbourne, 18 October 2012).

District Judge Nick Crichton, Family Drug and Alcohol Court (Paper presented at the Child Protection Legal Forum, Melbourne, 18 October 2012).

Further resources:

Bromfield, L., Lamont, A. Parker, R. & Horsfall, B. (2010). Issues for the safety and wellbeing of children in families with multiple and complex problems: The co-occurrence of domestic violence, parental substance misuse, and mental health problems.

1. Gregory Levine, A Study of Family Drug Treatment Courts in the United States and the United Kingdom: Giving parents and children the best chance of reunification (The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust of Australia, 2012) 11. See also Greg Levine and Barbara Kamler, A Study of Family Drug Treatment Courts in the US and UK: Winston Churchill Fellowship (Paper presented at the Child Protection Legal Forum, Melbourne, 18 October 2012).

2. Levine, above n 1, 4.

3. Ibid, 12.

4. Ibid, 13. See also Judith Harwin, Mary Ryan, Jo Tunnard, Subhash Pokhrel, Bachar Alrouh, Carla Matias and Momenian-Schneider (FDAC Research Team, Brunel University), The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) Evaluation Project – Highlights from the Final Report (Nuffield Foundation, May 2011) 2.

5. Levine, above n 1, 13-14; Harwin et al, above n 4, 2.

6. Levine, above n 1, 13.

7. Ibid 18, referencing J.D Marlowe and S.M Carey, Research Update on Family Drug Treatment Courts: Need to Know Brief (National Drug Institute, 2012)

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid. See also Harwin et al, above n 4, 3.

10. Levine, above n 1, 18-19 and Harwin et al, above n 4, 3.

Authors

Rachel Carson

Dr Rachel Carson is a socio-legal researcher with expertise in family law and qualitative research about family law disputes. After practising as a family lawyer, Rachel worked as a researcher in family law at the Melbourne Law School (University of Melbourne) and was awarded a Melbourne Research Scholarship to undertake her PhD in this field of research at the University of Melbourne.

 

Since joining the Family Law and Family Violence team at the Australian Institute of Family Studies in June 2012, Rachel has worked on a range of projects, including the Independent Children’s Lawyer Study and the Evaluation of the 2012 Family Violence Amendments Project. Rachel was the lead researcher on the recently completed Children and Young People in Separated Families: Family Law System Experiences and Needs project, together with the Institute’s Direct Cross-examination in Family Law Matters Study.

 

Rachel has contributed to the Institute’s elder abuse scoping studies and is currently working on the Elder Abuse National Research - Strengthening the Evidence Base - Stage 1 research program commissioned by the Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department.

 

Rachel is a consulting editor for the Family Law Review journal and has represented the Institute in various capacities, including as the AIFS observer on the Family Law Council, a body that provides policy advice on family law to the Commonwealth Attorney-General.

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