UK judges have backed ‘booze bracelets’ for parents who abuse alcohol to determine whether they can keep their children due to alcohol abuse.

  • UK trials began in November in cases where children were taken into care
  • Family Drug and Alcohol Courts have given bracelets to more than a dozen parents
  • The Device detects traces of alcohol through the skin and are used widely in the United States of America
  • Courts warn parents that they must change drinking habits or lose children
  • Effectiveness still to be proved

Parents with a history of alcohol abuse are being fitted with US-style ‘booze bracelets’ to determine whether they can keep custody of their children.

In the first UK trial of its kind, the highly controversial ankle tags have been given to more than a dozen problem parents by the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) so a check can be kept on their promises to stay sober.

Traditionally the FDAC has made high risk parents take DNA hair strand analysis to determine alcohol and drug problems.

The devices detect traces of alcohol released through the skin and are commonly used in the States to monitor alcohol-dependent criminals and tackle anti-social behaviour.

The UK trial of these devices, which began last November, has involved 13 individual parents referred to the FDAC in London after their drinking became so bad their children were taken into the care of the local authority.

The FDAC court, set up in 2008 by District Judge Nicholas Crichton, warns parents that they must change their behaviour or they may lose their children for good. So far the court has presided over more than 200 family law cases.

If parents commit to change, the court has a multi-disciplinary team run by The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health unit, and Coram children’s charity to provide immediate intensive support.

The bracelets, known as SCRAMx, are being used as an alternative to other forms of testing the FDAC routinely carries out, for example blood and urine samples and hair strand analysis.

Much like the much publicised ASBO tag they clip on to the ankle and every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, but while the ASBO tag checks that an individual conforms to his or her bail conditions these tags test for the presence of alcohol fumes emitted by the skin.

These readings are then transmitted to a base station usually installed at the individual’s home. The base station uploads the data automatically to a central database in the US, where it is processed and sent back to the FDAC.

This allows the FDAC to identify if any of the parents have consumed alcohol and, if so, how much and  how often. It can also determine whether the bracelet has been tampered with. On average, FDAC parents have worn them for 42 days, but the longest time was 98 days.

The FDAC says the trail has proved highly successful and in a couple of cases parents have been allowed to return home with their children.

Judge Crichton said: ‘We are dealing with troubled families who have child after child in the hope that one day the courts will let them keep one.

‘In one London borough alone, 203 children have come into the care system from just 49 mothers.

‘It seems crazy to go on in that way when there may well be another way of tackling their problems. It’s expensive to keep removing children and adopting them – far better to tackle the heart of the issue, which are drug or alcohol problems.

‘The bracelet is no more expensive than having a hair strand test, which is historical and not current. If alcohol is detected it sends out an alert.

‘If this happens, we are notified immediately. It provides local authorities with a greater degree of confidence in allowing parents to have contact with children who are in care, and in one or two cases it has allowed children to go home to their parents on the basis that the local authority will know very quickly if the parent chooses to drink.’

A spokesperson for AlphaBiolabs said ‘we are pleased to see this new tag introduced into the UK to help protect families from the misuse of alcohol and we see this as just an early warning system. At present even if the tag is used and registers a positive the client’s solicitor will argue that other elements such as some perfume or alcohol based cosmetics have been used and therefore the alert has generated a false positive.

‘There will always be a need for legal alcohol testing with a strict chain of custody and tried and trusted methods to prove historic alcohol abuse’.