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First UK 'addiction court' opens in London

Court aimed at keeping families together

OnMedica Staff

Monday, 28 January 2008

The UK's first family drug and alcohol court is due to open in London today.

The court, based on a US model, will hear childcare cases where one or both parents suffer from an addiction to alcohol or narcotics.

The new venture will hear family cases - such as child care applications - from three London councils - Westminster, Islington and Camden. A specialist judge will work with addiction specialists and social workers at the Family Drug and Alcohol Court, fast-tracking addicted parents into treatment and recovery programmes.

The three-year pilot, set up as a joint initiative by the three councils, will cost more than £1.3m, with just under £900,000 coming from central government and the rest from the three boroughs.

Currently, two-thirds of children taken into care in inner London have parents with drug or alcohol problems.

Justice minister Bridget Prentice said: "Cases will be brought to court earlier wherever a parent is suspected of substance or alcohol abuse.

"And during the course of the case, the focus will very much be on therapy and recovery and so therefore on the longer-term interest of the child."

She added: "If we can take a step towards ending the misery drugs and alcohol abuse causes families, that can only be a good thing."

The judge will be able to order parents to attend one-to-one counselling or group sessions to avoid having children taken into care.

The court may also recommend that a parent ends an abusive relationship or can advise them to visit a housing department or attend AA meetings.

Specialist district judge Nick Crichton, who has campaigned for such a court for the past five years, said: "We are confident that the pilot court will be able to make a significant difference to the lives of the children whose cases will come before us, and we are excited that at last the project is about to start."

Parents' progress will be monitored by the same judge every two to four weeks - a point emphasised by Judge Crichton as key to the pilot's success.

The project will be evaluated by experts from Brunel University.

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