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3.1.5 Family Group Conferencing

Contents

  1. What is a Family Group Conference?
  2. How does a Family Group Conference Plan Integrate with Child Protection Planning?
  3. Stages of the Family Group Conference
  4. Implementation of the Plan
  5. Review of the Plan


1. What is a Family Group Conference?

A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a decision making meeting in which a child's wider family network come together to make a plan about the future arrangements for the child. The plan will ensure that s/he is safe and his/her wellbeing is promoted.

FGCs are intended as a respectful and empowering process in which parents, children and members of the wider family including Connected Persons are given clear information about agencies concerns and are asked to produce a plan that addresses those concerns and answers specific queries.

The expectation is that the family's plan will be agreed by the agencies involved provided it adequately addresses the concerns which the agencies identified and is safe for the child.

Every family is unique and has its own community values, culture, personalities, dynamics and history. A FGC uses the family's own skills, strengths and personal knowledge to resolve difficulties. Using the family's own expertise and ensuring their involvement in the FGC process can help to redress the power imbalances that are experienced by children / young people and their families. A major strength of the FGC is that the child or young person normally participates in the meeting and can therefore have a major influence on the plans that are made for him / her.

When should a Family Group conference be considered?

Situations where a FGC should be considered include the following:

FGC's can be offered to a family on more than one occasion and there is no restriction on the status or type of case, whether it be classified as Family Support, Child Protection, Care Proceedings or other Looked After children.

However, there are some situations where a FGC is contra-indicated. These include:

Each case would need to be discussed on its merits; through the social worker consulting with their team manager.


2. How does a Family Group Conference Plan Integrate with Child Protection Planning?

Where a Child Protection Plan is in place or is being considered, it is essential to discuss how the FGC plan will contribute to keeping the child safe and reduce the risks that have been identified in the Child Protection Plan.

FGC's are family led meetings and not all professionals involved with the family need to attend. For this reason, it is better practice not to incorporate a Core Group Meeting into a FGC.

The Family Plan drawn up at the FGC must be sent to the Safeguarding CISRO so it can be included in the review of the child protection plan.

Family members who have agreed to monitor the Family Plan should be invited to the child protection review conference to ensure that there is continuity between the two processes.

The FGC does not remove or replace the need for Child Protection Conferences.

Where the FGC process uncovers new information that a child is suffering or like to suffer Significant Harm, the child's social worker must be informed immediately.


3. Stages of the Family Group Conference

The Family Group Conference is held with the following three stages:

Stage 1: Information Giving

This part of the meeting includes introductions, and ensures everyone present understands the purpose and process of the FGC and agrees how the meeting will be conducted, including if considered helpful by those present, explicit ground rules.

Professionals will not need to provide a written report but will be expected to provide a verbal contribution detailing the strengths of the family, issues of concern, services available and the "bottom line". Agencies must also be prepared to respond to any queries that the conference members may have. (This could include questions from family members and advocates).

The type of information that is helpful to present to the family includes the following:

  • Current concerns and the reason for the conference rather than a detailed history;
  • Experience of the family's strengths and successes as well as concerns;
  • Clarity about what needs to change for the child and within what timescales;
  • Information about what resources could be available to support the family plan, any limitations on resources (including resources of time), timescales for accessing resources and any procedures that need to be followed to obtain resources;
  • Any child welfare concerns that will affect what can be agreed in the plan such as the child not having contact with a particular person or a schedule one offender;
  • What action will be taken if the family cannot make a plan or the plan is not agreed, or agency concerns are not addressed in the plan. This could vary from 'remaining concerned' to evoking statutory powers such as an application for a care order.

The presentation of information is important, the FGC is not a Child Protection Conference and it is helpful that the information that is presented is clear and understandable to the family. General issues include:

  • Information must be up to date but not new, there should be no 'surprises' for the family members with whom agencies have been working with;
  • Statements should be specific such as "Jack has been absent from school for 13 sessions in the last term" not "Jack has missed school a lot";
  • Avoid jargon, with explanations of any professional terms;
  • Keep explanations of concerns centred on the needs of the child rather than on what it is felt the adults should do;
  • Focus on the problem rather than anticipating solutions, for example, "How can the family ensure that Darren is taken to school every day" rather than "Mum needs to get Darren to school more often";
  • Questions are not intended to be assessment related, but rather focussing on a plan that the family can create in response concerns.

The child / young person and family members may also provide information via an advocate or other supporter, ask for clarification or ask questions.

Stage 2: Private Family Time

The professionals withdraw from the meeting after the information sharing stage. The family members must have time and privacy to talk among themselves and come up with a plan that addresses the concerns raised in the information giving part of the conference; identifying resources and support which are required from agencies, as well as within the family to make it work.

The family may ask for a particular professional/s to be involved in the private planning time if they need to, otherwise the family are left on their own to discuss and plan. If an advocate is present the child / young person will decide whether or not they want their advocate to remain during private family time.

Stage 3: Plan and Agreement

The family then produce their plan. A professional/s can assist with this if the family requests it, but the plan should be written in the family’s own words. The professionals then meet with the family to discuss and agree the plan and negotiate resources. The professionals may need to consult with their manager before accepting the plan but it is hoped that any discussions will have taken place prior to the FGC.

It is expected that the family plan is accepted by the professionals unless the issue of the child's safety and well-being has not been satisfactorily addressed and the child is deemed to be at risk of significant harm.

Any reasons for not accepting the plan must be made clear immediately and the family should be given the opportunity to respond to the concerns and change or add to the plan if necessary.

It is important to ensure that any child / young person present has a clear understanding of what is decided and that their views are understood.

Distribution of the Plan

The family plan is then typed up, unless the family want to do this themselves, and distributed to all relevant agencies and the family within three days of the conference. There are no formal minutes of the FGC - The plan is the only record of the FGC.

In addition to the plan agreed by the family, the following information should be included on a separate sheet:

  1. Name and date of birth of child(ren) who were the subjects of the FGC;
  2. Date and venue of the FGC;
  3. List of everyone who attended and who was invited but unable to attend - making clear who each person is and their connection to the child;
  4. The questions the family were asked to address and the details of the plan addressing these questions;
  5. Names and contact details of those who have agreed to monitor the plan;
  6. Date of the Review FGC.


4. Implementation of the Plan

All those concerned need to implement their parts of the plan within agreed timescales and communicate and address any concerns which arise. The family will be asked to nominate a family member / friend, or ideally two people, who will take responsibility for informing the professional coordinating the FGC if the plan is not working and / or needs adjustments.


5. Review of the Plan

A review date for the FGC will be agreed at the conference and is usually planned to be held no later than six weeks after the initial FGC. The review will be convened by the professional coordinating the FGC and professionals involved will be expected to attend. The date and time for this will be written into the family plan.

The review enables the family and the professionals to check out if the plan is working and to adjust the levels of support or resources necessary.

All families will be offered a review but it is the family's decision as to whether a formal review takes place. Families may choose to review the plan themselves informally and will update workers on progress.

The review is arranged on the same principles as the original meeting, i.e. with private family time. It will be the responsibility of the professional coordinating the FGC to update the family group of the current situation in relation to the child / young person or any significant changes which have occurred since the initial meeting.

Any changes to the family plan arising from the Review FGC will be agreed and circulated in the same way as the initial plan.

What is an Advocate and what do they do?

An Advocate presents views, wishes and feelings of someone else in situations where that person feels unable / unwilling to speak for themselves.

Advocacy is:

  1. Advocacy is acting on behalf of someone else so that thoughts and feelings can be clearly expressed;
  2. Advocacy involves support, a voice and independence.

Advocates:

  1. Work with people who are or feel as if they are disadvantaged;
  2. Use everyday life skills and a have a firm commitment to helping other people;
  3. Are people who volunteer their time;
  4. Are always needed from many different backgrounds and with a variety of experiences.

Advocates work with family members (children, young people, and adults) who children’s social care are working with for a number of reasons and who would like an advocate to support them in various situations such as meetings and visits.

Advocacy fits into the Family Group Conference Process in the following ways:

Sometimes it is important that an individual child or adult feels that there is somebody who:

  • Has spent time getting to know them;
  • Is ‘there’ for them and no-one else;
  • Represents no interests other that the individual’s;
  • Is independent of the situation;
  • Can say things it is difficult for them to say. Often we do not really express what we want to because we are afraid of the consequences;
  • Has listened to their views and wishes and has taken them seriously;
  • Has discussed options and the ‘what ifs’;
  • Will represent them if they are not in the room;
  • Will ensure that what they have to say is listened to;
  • Is giving out the signal that they are not alone and have support.

End