See Family Drug Treatment Court - procedure for tasks that must be undertaken when working with a family in the FDTC.
The FDTC in Victoria, a first of its kind in Australia, inducted its first participant to the program on 23 May 2014. The FDTC is based at Broadmeadows Children’s Court. It aims to:
- provide a court coordinated response to family fragmentation by assisting parents to overcome their substance use issues and create a safe and stable environment for family reunification;
- minimise the time to achieve permanent, stable and safe placements for children in out-of-home care.
To be eligible a participant must have at least one child aged three or under, or a child of any age removed from their parent(s) within the last six months. Children must be subject to a protection application or protection order and be placed in out-of-home care primarily due to parental substance use. The participant must reside in or have significant ties to the respective Division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The participant must be committed to reunification with their child; be aware of the expectations of the program and consent to voluntary participation.
For the department to support the induction of a parent into the FDTC program, the permanency objective in the case plan for the child must be family reunification. The child should be subject to a family reunification order, or at the minimum an interim accommodation order, for the department to support a parent’s induction into the program. It is not considered appropriate a parent to be a participant of the FDTC when no order is in place for the child.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) exists between Court Services Victoria and Child Protection for the FDTC. Should you require further information, contact the Children and Families Policy Branch.
How the FDTC operates
A referral can be made by any person with an interest in the matter, but typically this is through child protection or a legal representative for the parent. An assessment of the parent/s by the FDTC clinicians is conducted over a six week period. The Magistrate will then determine acceptance of the referral after considering both the clinical assessment report and child protection report.
Once inducted the program lasts for 12 months and includes three phases. Progress reviews are held by the FDTC and phase progression depends on an individual’s progress.
A Family Recovery Plan is developed by the FDTC for the participating parent in conjunction with child protection and other professional supports, and includes goals and tasks directed to the parent for each phase of the program. Child protection’s input is essential to this process and therefore the allocated child protection practitioner must attend Family Recovery Plan meetings and reviews, which can be included as case planning activities. Attendance by the case planner at these meetings is desirable.
The FDTC clinical team, which includes the child protection FDTC coordinator, meets weekly, and the FDTC conducts hearings weekly at Broadmeadows Children’s Court and Shepparton Children's Court.
If any changes are required to the existing order, such as a variation of conditions or a breach of the order requiring an application by emergency care, the matter will be listed in the regular Children’s Court in the usual manner. This matter is usually presided over by the FDTC Magistrate in the regular Children’s Court proceedings.
While the FDTC plays a critical and significant role in assessing and supporting parents in their recovery from drug and alcohol use, it does not have a role in case planning. This function remains the responsibility of the case planner and child protection. The Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO) or rural legal representative should be consulted in instances where there is perceived inconsistency between the case plan and any decisions made by the FDTC.
What happens if a parent doesn’t complete the program?
If a parent does not successfully complete the program, either by being exited from the program or leaving voluntarily, the Children’s Court proceedings continue through the normal process in the Children’s Court.
What happens at the end of the 12 months?
Once a participant is ready to graduate the program, it is anticipated that family reunification will have been achieved, or will occur imminently. The matter will then be listed for a mention at which time the appropriate order, such as family preservation order, can be made.
What happens after the program?
A period of ‘after care’ is provided to participants, whether they have graduated or exited from the program and irrespective of whether child protection involvement is ongoing.
It is likely to be appropriate for the child to be made subject to an order, such as a family preservation order, for monitoring purposes, and to assist parents sustain the changes they have made. Child protection will remain engaged with the family monitoring and supporting to ensure the case plan and conditions on the order are progressed.
Key features of the FDTC
- Parents must submit to regular drug screens as directed. Urinalysis is the preferred method of the FDTC, although other methods such as a breathalyser may also be used where considered appropriate.
- Parents must engage in counselling and any other work assessed as appropriate to the circumstances of the family.
- The FDTC is a multi-disciplinary approach and communication between members of the FDTC clinical team, child protection case manager, and with relevant community services is crucial.
- Clinicians from the FDTC will be required to give evidence at the Court if they are subpoenaed by Child Protection.
Information on the FDTC can be found on the Children's Court website.
What happens if one parent is not a participant of the FDTC?
It is very important for child protection practitioners to consider the non-participating parent and keep them engaged and encourage their involvement. The non-participating parent continues to have the same rights as they would if proceedings were in the regular Children’s Court, for example, for service of applications and they can contest decisions and lodge applications to vary or revoke orders.
Child protection practitioners should consult the CPLO or rural legal representative if further assistance is required.
Role of the FDTC child protection coordinator
The FDTC coordinator based in their respective Division and is a member of the FDTC team in all instances.
The coordinator is a critical conduit for communication between child protection and the FDTC, facilitating information sharing, and representing the views of child protection in clinical meetings and at the FDTC.
The coordinator may be the allocated child protection practitioner for children whose parents are participants in the FDTC, and sometimes for other children who are not part of the FDTC process. However, this role is crucial to the smooth functioning of the FDTC.
The coordinator role works closely with child protection practitioners and case planners to assist with case plan decisions.
Role of the Court and Magistrate
A unique feature of the program is that one Magistrate presides over a matter from beginning to end. This ensures consistency in decision making throughout the program and that the Magistrate is fully aware of the circumstances of each case and the progress being made.
The FDTC does not generally make formal changes to the existing order or conditions. For example if contact conditions are required to be changed, the matter must be listed as a mention for a variation application and parents are entitled to be represented by their solicitors. The FDTC Magistrate and the FDTC clinical team do not determine case planning decisions of the department.
The Magistrate of the FDTC has confirmed that results from drug screens will be released at the first directions hearing, to all parties, if the matter goes to a contest. In all other circumstances results from drug screens are released to child protection on each occasion a participant is scheduled to appear before the FDTC.
Considerations for good practice
It is crucial that child protection practitioners inform the FDTC coordinator of any issues related to a case, so they can provide accurate information to the Magistrate of the FDTC to inform their decision making. Practitioners must also provide the FDTC coordinator with regular written updates on a standard template whenever participants are returning to court for review. It is essential these updates provide detailed information and the FDTC coordinator is consulted prior to the hearing date.
It is valuable for child protection practitioners and case planners to attend and participate in the FDTC where appropriate, and to invite the clinical case managers to care team meetings and case plan meetings relating to the FDTC participant.
Child protection practitioners should consult early, and frequently, with CPLO or rural legal representative.