The Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC) is a program within the Family Division of the Children’s Court of Victoria that commenced at the Broadmeadows Children’s Court in 2014 and has now been expanded to the Shepparton Children’s Court.
It is a judicially monitored, therapeutic 12-month program conducted in a highly supportive non-adversarial environment. The program seeks to engage parents whose children have been removed from their care due to parental substance misuse or dependence and uses intensive case coordination and holistic therapeutic intervention to address issues of substance misuse with the aim of achieving safe and sustainable family reunification of parents and their children.
The FDTC embraces diversity, and all participants can expect to be treated with respect at all times in the FDTC program.
How the Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC) program works
The FDTC program runs for 12 months, with an optional 6 months of aftercare support available. It is available at our Broadmeadows and Shepparton Children’s Court locations.
FDTC participants are allocated their own FDTC Clinical Case Manager who will guide the development of a Family Recovery Plan that identifies treatment strategies to address substance misuse, as well as addressing any needs associated with mental and physical health, housing, parenting, family violence and child safety, stability and development. The FDTC works in a collaborative manner with a range of external support services to attempt to meet these needs.
The FDTC program consists of 3 phases that participants move through as their recovery progresses. In the first phase, participants must attend court each week to meet with the Magistrate and their FDTC team to discuss their recovery goals and their support needs, in addition to providing supervised urine drug screens three times per week. In the second phase, participants are only required to attend court once per fortnight and provide supervised urine drug screens twice per week, while in the third and final phase, court attendance is expected once per month and supervised urine drug screens occur once per week.
FDTC participants are expected to attend some core support programs, in addition to being able to choose to attend others. Programs and supports currently offered include parenting skill development, cooking and nutrition, yoga/mindfulness, safe and healthy relationships, and peer mentorship.
When the parent and child can be reunited
A participant can have their child or children returned to their care when they have met the goals of their Family Recovery Plan. While the FDTC is a 12 month program, reunification can occur at any time within that 12 months.
When reunification happens during the program, the participant will be expected to continue with the rest of the program for the full period of 12 months.
After FDTC program
There are three types of outcomes for a participant:
- Graduation – This means the person has successfully gone through all three phases of the program and achieved all their Family Recovery Plan goals.
- Completion – The person has completed 12 months in the program. They may not have gone through all three phases or met all Family Recovery Plan goals.
- Exit – The person leaves the program without completing 12 months. This may be by their own choice or the magistrate’s decision.
After the program ends, 6 months of aftercare from the FDTC team is available to all participants.
Their matter will return to the mainstream Children’s Court where it will be decided if further orders are needed for the best interests of the child or children.
What are the benefits of the Family Drug Treatment Court?
Two independent evaluations of the FDTC have been undertaken – the first by Health Outcomes International in 2017, and the second by Swinburne University’s Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science in 2018. Combined, evaluation outcomes have included that;
- Participants joining the FDTC are between 1.6 and 2.5 times (variation relates to time in program) more likely to achieve reunification than a matched comparison sample whose case progressed through the mainstream court alone.
- For participants who engaged with the FDTC for at least 6 months, 72.2% achieved reunification with their children, compared to 43.3% in the mainstream matched comparison sample.
- For FDTC participants, the average length of time to final order (reunification) is 1.1 years compared to 3.5 years for the mainstream court cohort.
- FDTC outcomes are more sustainable than those in the mainstream matched comparison sample, with FDTC participants 2.2 times less likely than mainstream participants to have a substantiated report made to child protection in the post-court period.
What participants have said
“Family Drug Treatment Court helped me to get my family back together. In doing so, the team at FDTC gave me unconditional non-judgemental positive help, support and guidance to build a healthy loving lifestyle.”
“I appreciate what drug court did to support me and my family through the hard times and getting my family back together.”
“Thank you for everything. This court has turned my life around”
Who can join the Family Drug Treatment Court
The person must:
- have a child or children who are living outside of their care, mainly because of concerns about their substance use. The youngest child must be below 3 years old; or
- have a child or children (of any age) who are living outside of their care, mainly because of concerns about their substance use. The out-of-home care placement has not been for more than 6 months.
In addition, the person must:
- consent to the referral
- be seeking to have their child or children returned to their care.
The child protection case must be managed by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) office that is serviced by the Children’s Court venue where the FDTC is.
Referral to FDTC is not dependent on any particular Children’s Court order type.
How to refer to the Family Drug Treatment Court
Step 1. Get a referral
All referrals are made in the mainstream court at a listed mention and ought to occur in discussion with all parties to ensure transparency.
All referrals will be made in court at a listed mention. The completed referral form must be submitted with the minutes in that listed court event..
Step 2. Undertake an assessment
Following a referral being made, the prospective FDTC participant will be contacted by a member of the FDTC team for the purposes of arranging an assessment appointment. Only three unsuccessful attempts to contact the prospective participant will be made before the referral is closed.
The purpose of assessment is to determine the appropriateness of the referral for induction into the FDTC program. Appropriateness for induction is based on the following:
- The existence of an alcohol or other drug problem experienced by the prospective participant;
- The acknowledgement of that AOD problem by the prospective participant as causative with respect to their child/ren not being in their care; and
- A preparedness and ability for the prospective participant to address this issue (i.e. “Treatment Readiness”) in accordance with core program requirements, including regular urinalysis and attendance to court.
If a referral is assessed as appropriate for induction into the program, an induction date will be identified as quickly as possible, with all parties advised.
FDTC is the first of its kind in Australia. Pioneered in 2014 by Magistrate Greg Levine, the program has proven results. An independent evaluation shows that parents are 2.5 times more likely to reunify with their children than those engaged in mainstream court processes.
Connecting with science: Drug screens and how they support Family Drug Treatment Court goals
FDTC has collaborated with Judicial College of Victoria and Australian Clinical Labs to create a webinar and other resources to assist judicial officers and justice sector professionals in refreshing their drug screen core skills and learn how one specialist court uses this science to support its program goals. Watch the webinar and download presentations