For relevant forms relating to this area of service please refer to the Prevention and Support Services section of the Resource Library.
- When Family Group Conferences Should be Held
- Requesting Family Group Conferences
- Convening Family Group Conferences
- Family Group Conferences - Key Elements
Family Group Conferences (FGC's) are a way of ensuring that families are provided with the best possible chance to get together in order to try and make the most suitable plan for a child who is experiencing difficulties in remaining within their family unit/household.
FGC's can be used in all areas of family and childcare practice. Their use is not solely confined to a particular type of referral such as family support or child protection.
Evidence clearly demonstrates that appropriate and timely usage of FGC's can improve outcomes for children by:
- Developing plans that are viewed as safe by families and social workers;
- Significantly improving communication and understanding between social workers and families;
- Reducing the number of children who are Accommodated and improving the levels of contact between the child and his or her friend and family network.
The term 'family' in the context of FGC's refers to both blood relatives and non-related adults such as family friends or neighbours.
In Enfield, FGC's are facilitated by an independent agency who appoints an independent co-ordinator to each case. They are not employed by the local authority.
2. When Family Group Conferences Should be Held
There should be an effective process for identifying those situations where a FGC is appropriate. The use of a FGC should not create a more intrusive involvement by the various agencies. The model can be used whenever there is a need to plan in order to ensure that the needs of the child are met.
Family Group Conferences should always be arranged where there is a likelihood of a child becoming separated from their natural family through removal into the care system - thereby providing the possibility of exploring all alternatives to this course of action at the earliest possible stage.
Family Group Conferences are now a core component of the Public Law Outline process. No requests for planned Care Proceedings should be considered where an FGC has not been considered - see Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.
In relation to children who are Looked After, consideration should also be given to holding a FGC at an early stage in permanence planning to establish whether there are alternative placements for the child within the family network should the plan to return the child to his or her parents be unsuccessful. In this context, the FGC will often be convened to develop a Parallel Plan.
See also Placement with Connected Persons Procedure in relation to the placement of Looked After children within the family network.
3. Requesting Family Group Conferences
Where a social worker wishes to progress a case towards a FGC, the social worker should liaise with his or her manager who will decide/agree on the appropriateness of the referral, discuss funding arrangements and logistical planning, including a venue for the meeting.
Where agreed by the manager, the social worker will complete an FGC referral form plus a 'Request for Funding' form and send it to the FGC administrator within the 'Children in Need Service'. They will progress the referral to the independent FGC agency and will also monitor any financial payments to the agency.
The Independent Coordinator will require details of all family members, with contact addresses or phone numbers, together with an appropriate referral indicating the reasons for calling the FGC and the assessed level of risk to the child.
4. Convening Family Group Conferences
FGC's are usually convened by the Independent Coordinator.
The Independent Coordinator will generally plan the arrangements for the meeting after receiving the initial referral from the referring social worker. The Independent Coordinator has a responsibility to ensure that the FGC understands the local authority's view on the levels of risk to the child - it is the responsibility of the referring social worker to provide this information.
There should be a presumption that all family members will be invited to a FGC.
Professionals should facilitate family member attendance at a FGC through financial and practical assistance with travel, the choice of venue, the availability of interpreters etc.
A child, if they wish to attend, should be helped to identify a supporter, preferably from within their own network
In certain exceptional situations, it may be necessary to exclude a family member from the FGC; should this be the case, their input to the meeting should be achieved in alternative ways, for example through letters or tape recordings. The grounds for exclusion should be clear and should be put in writing to the particular family member. The decision to exclude a family member rests with the Independent Coordinator.
5. Family Group Conferences - Key Elements
- The role of the Coordinator is vital in negotiating attendance at the FGC and in informing all participants about the process involved. This role should be separate from other professionals' involvement with the family;
- The role of the professionals is to share their information and knowledge with the family. It is not to present a plan and seek agreement to this. The family must be the primary planning group;
- The family must always have private decision making and planning time - unless they request a particular professional to be present;
- The family's plan should be agreed and resources negotiated by the various agencies and professionals unless the plan is considered to place the child at risk of Significant Harm. In such a situation the onus is on the professionals to explain how, and of what, the child would be at risk;
- The Independent Coordinator has a duty to identify and address issues of race, gender and culture and to respond positively to any particular needs a family may identify. The FGC will be held in the first language of the family;
- Once a plan is agreed, the family should also decide how to monitor and review the plan and what contingency plans are needed if the original plan is unsuccessful.