This page cites quotes about family group conferences from official publications including Parliamentary reports, statutory guidance and Ministerial statements
“The Bill does not cover some areas of family law or practice which some of our witnesses would like to see included in statute, for example, Family Group Conferences on which we commented favourably in the Operation of the Family Courts. We have not been able within the timetable for this inquiry to look beyond scrutiny of the draft clauses.
“Mr Timpson (Government Minister) told us that the Government was working with the Family Rights Group, and providing funding to them to develop and improve the use of family group conferences. His view was that “the more work that is done early, the more the likelihood is that all the potential options for a child’s future can be explored thoroughly before the case gets to court.”
1b. Evidence to the Justice Select Committee Pre-legislative scrutiny of Children and Families Bill
i. Oral evidence from Edward Timpson MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Children and families), 21 November 2012
Mr Timpson: “There is already a duty on local authorities to consider the wider family as potential carers when they take a child into care. The use of family group conferences—I know from my own experience and I am starting to go back a few years now; they are starting to build up—were becoming more and more used. When they were run well, they were very effective. When they were not run so well, obviously, they were not so effective. …I came across too many cases where a lot of the work and the assessment was being done during the proceedings. So the more work that is done early, the more the likelihood is that all the potential options for a child’s future can be explored thoroughly before a case gets to court.”
ii. Written evidence from the Judges of the Family Division (CFB 55)
“Among the issues that need to be addressed to prepare for the introduction of the 26 week timetable, we would identify …the quality and content of local authority pre-proceedings work with the family, in particular the examination of family placement options (through family group conferences or otherwise) and assessments.”
“There are a number of (good practice) pilots and initiatives under way in several parts of the country. Ones we would highlight include...several family group conference initiatives to engage extended families pre-proceedings”
“Para 53. One mechanism for ensuring early engagement from the wider birth family is for the local authority to convene a family group conference at which the child's future care plan is discussed. We note the Minister's comment that "there is a lot of merit in an effective family group conference at as early a point as possible".
“Para 54. We have received evidence that family group conferences vary in their quality and effectiveness. The Family Rights Group have drawn up a pre-proceedings protocol and a key component of this protocol is the convening of a family group conference before a child becomes looked after. We support the principle of family group conferences being incorporated within a pre-proceedings protocol, with specific guidance on how such conferences should be conducted. We invite the Government to give further consideration to this.”
“For instance, we have seen the influence of family group conferences—if they are managed properly at an earlier period of a child being in the local authority’s care—how that can help resolve the future of that child much earlier than would otherwise have been the case.
“In my experience, where a family group conference is well organised and timely it can be extremely effective.
“Some family group conferences do not necessarily result in any change to the plan but it is important that that process is done at the earliest opportunity. Whether you should mandate it in every situation is something that I will be looking forward to hearing the Committee’s views on, but I think there is a lot of merit in an effective family group conference at as early a point as possible. I say that if for no other reason than to ensure that the permanency decision can be made that is commensurate with the best interests of the child and so we do not end up in a situation like I have seen myself where a family group conference is called at the 11th hour and ends up causing in some instances another six-month delay which can be ill afforded.
Family Justice Review: “The benefits of Family Group Conferences should be more widely recognised and their use should be considered before proceedings. More research is needed on how they can best be used, their benefits and the cost.”
“Accept ..Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are used by local authorities in a variety of different ways. The Government agrees there would be benefits in research to explore what particular features of FGCs offer the greatest benefits in the context of care proceedings. This could be considered as part of the wider programme of Family Justice Review related research.”
“We recommended that alternatives to some current court processes should be developed and extended: Family Group Conferences can be useful although their effectiveness needs more research” p129
“The benefits of Family Group Conferences should be more widely recognised and their use should be considered before proceedings. More research is needed on how they can best be used, their benefits and the costs.” P19
“FAMILY GROUP CONFERENCES
“Para 82. One suggested means put to us for preventing cases reaching court was the use of Family Group Conferences (FGCs). They originate from New Zealand and aim to support families (including extended family members and friends) to draw up a plan to enable the child to remain with the immediate or extended family. FGCs are voluntary, but the families are aware that if nothing is agreed the child may be taken into care. The family, and often the child, meet with a social worker and a co-ordinator who may be from a charity or a separate part of social services. The plan is constructed by the family (in private) but must address the local authority's concerns. The local authority can set conditions, for example stipulating that the child cannot live with a particular person. The family can ask for support as part of the plan. The local authority then chooses whether or not to accept the plan. Depending on the details of the case and the plan it may avoid the need for proceedings, or the plan may need to be confirmed by court orders. The Interim Report noted that there were a variety of commissioning models and that the use of the technique varies between local authorities. It said that FGCs were "usually seen as a means to avoid proceedings" rather than as a form of mediation whose conclusions could be confirmed by the court.
“Para 83. The Family Rights Group explained the potential benefits of FGCs in its submission:
FGCs are proven to:
- Result in extended family members stepping in to support struggling parents and when necessary to take on the care of the child if s/he cannot remain with their parents;
- Engage fathers and paternal relatives;
- Give children a voice;
- Improve outcomes for children at risk.
The British Association of Social Workers was also very supportive of this approach.
“Para 84. The Family Rights Group told us that a 2009 survey found that 69% of local authorities in England and 18 out of 22 authorities in Wales have or are setting up an FGC service. The Interim Report found that "most (possibly all) local authorities now offer some form of FGC service". Barnardo's said in written evidence that it would like to see an entitlement to FGCs in care proceedings. Jonathan Ewen, Director, Barnardo's North East, told us that FGCs cost between £1,000-2,000 per family. A typical court case would cost the local authority £4,825 in court fees alone. He also assured us that FGC would not add to delays because: if we were able to be sure that at no stage in the care proceedings another relative was able to come forward to be assessed, it means all that work would be done before you got into actual proceedings. That means the proceedings could flow forward much more speedily.
“Para 85. A survey by Cafcass found that "late emergence of family members wishing to be assessed as potential carers" was the second most common reason given for cases not proceeding as timetabled. However, this was the finding of a survey of Cafcass workers, rather than a review of case files, and so does not give an indication of how many cases may be affected by this problem. The Family Rights Group claimed that 90% of FGCs reached an agreement that the local authority accepted, and that this prevented children being taken into care in 32% of cases and prevented proceedings in 47% of cases. Mr Ewen told us about the work of Barnardo's Liverpool Family Group Conferencing Service which claimed an even better success rate: it had worked with 27 families, and not one proceeded to care. However it should be noted that not all cases in an area are referred to FGC, and that the families are carefully selected. If FGCs were rolled out to all cases, the success rate could well fall.
“Para 86. Barnardo's told us that note should be taken of the cost savings of FCGs: [The Liverpool FGC] cost £88,000 to run but saved the local authority approximately ten times that amount in care fees. Despite being regarded as a successful and cost effective service by the local authority, last year  Liverpool announced it would no longer be able to continue funding non statutory work. The service has been forced to make significant cut-backs.
“Para 87. The Family Rights Group also reported considerable savings from FGCs, with a recent sample of four local FGC projects finding that they have prevented 159 children becoming looked after in the last year, including avoidance of proceedings for 87 children, at a saving of approximately £6.76 million.
“Para 88. Family Group Conferences are a way to enable parents to makes necessary changes in order to retain care of their children, or to enable children to remain with the extended family. In cases where it is not possible for the child to remain with the family, they can help reduce delays once the case reaches court. Given the high costs of court cases, legal aid and the high costs of keeping children in care, the potential saving from even a small reduction in the number of care cases is considerable. We were very impressed by the account of Family Group Conferences in Liverpool. It is a matter of regret that a service with an apparent 100% success rate is being cut back.”
6. Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, Department for Education (pre Department for Children, Schools and Families)
All quotes from section 2, non-statutory practice guidance
“Family Group Conferences (FGCs) may be appropriate in a number of contexts where there is a plan or decision to be made. The family is the primary planning group in the process. Where there are plans to use FGCs in situations where there are concerns about possible harm to a child, they should be developed and implemented under the auspices of LSCB. FGCs should not replace or remove the need for child protection conferences.” p19
“All health professionals who work with children, young people and families should be able to:… contribute to child protection conferences, family group conferences and strategy discussions.” p57
“LSCBs should consider the need for other local protocols under this function, beyond those specifically set out in regulations, including …attendance at family group conferences.” P92
“An initial assessment may indicate that a child is a ‘child in need’ as defined by section 17 of the Children Act 1989 but that there are no substantiated concerns that the child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. There may be sufficient information available on which to decide what services (if any) should be provided by whom according to an agreed plan. On the other hand a more in-depth assessment may be necessary in order to understand the child’s needs and circumstances. In these circumstances, the Assessment Framework provides guidance on undertaking a core assessment which builds on the findings from the initial assessment and addresses the central or most important aspects of the needs of a child and the capacity of his or her parents or caregivers to respond appropriately to these needs within the wider family and community context. This core assessment can provide a sound evidence base for professional judgements on what types of services are most likely to bring about good outcomes for the child.
Family Group Conferences may be an effective vehicle for taking forward work in such cases.” p148
“The agencies most involved may judge that a parent, caregiver or members of the child’s wider family are willing and able to co-operate with actions to ensure the child’s future safety and welfare and that the child is therefore not continuing to, or be likely to, suffer significant harm. This judgement can only be made in the light of all relevant information obtained during a section 47 enquiry, and a soundly based assessment of the likelihood of successful intervention, based on clear evidence and mindful of the dangers of misplaced professional optimism. Local authority children’s social care have a duty to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings and take these into account (having regard to the child’s age and understanding) when deciding on the provision of services. A meeting of involved professionals and family members may be useful to agree what actions should be undertaken by whom and with what intended outcomes for the child’s health and development, including the provision of therapeutic services. Whatever process is used to plan future action, the resulting plan should be informed by the core assessment findings. It should set out who will have responsibility for what actions including what course of action should be followed if the plan is not being successfully implemented. It should also include a timescale for review of progress against planned outcomes. Family Group Conferences may have a role to play in fulfilling these tasks.” p160
“A family group conference (FGC) is a decision making and planning process whereby the wider family group makes plans and decisions for children and young people who have been identified either by the family or by service providers as being in need of a plan that will safeguard and promote their welfare. FGCs do not replace or remove the need for child protection conferences, which should always be held when the relevant criteria are met. FGCs may be valuable, for example:
- for children in need, in a range of circumstances where a plan is required for the child’s future welfare;
- where section 47 enquiries do not substantiate concerns about significant harm, but where support and services are required; and
- where section 47 enquiries progress to a child protection conference, the conference may agree that an FGC is an appropriate vehicle for the core group to use to develop the outline child protection plan into a fully worked-up plan.
“It is essential that all parties are provided with clear and accurate information, which will make effective planning possible. The family is the primary planning group in the process. Family members need to be able to understand what the issues are from the perspective of the professionals. The family and involved professionals should be clear about:
- what the professional findings are from any core assessment of the child and family;
- what the family understands about their current situation;
- what decisions are required;
- what decisions have already been taken;
- the family’s scope for decision-making, and whether there are any issues/ decisions that are not negotiable; and
- what resources are, or might be, available to implement any plan. Within this framework, agencies and professionals should agree to support the plan if it does not place the child at risk of suffering significant harm, and if the resources requested can be provided.
“Where there are plans to use FGCs in situations where there are concerns about possible harm to a child, they should be developed and implemented under the auspices of the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). This work should involve all relevant organisations and individuals, and ensure that their use is applicable to other relevant LSCB policies and procedures. Inter-agency training is necessary to build the relevant skills required to work with children and families in this way, and to promote confidence in, and develop a shared understanding of, the process.” p284-5
Para 6.39 “Oxfordshire County Council provide an impressive example of how, with partner agencies, it has adopted a range of evidence based programmes149, including interventions based on social learning theory, Family Nurse Partnerships, Family Group Conferences and Parents under Pressure. All staff working on these programmes have undertaken the required specialist training and are in receipt of high quality supervision and consultation.
‘These types of evidence-based programmes are expensive to set up but there is increasing evidence that, by avoiding the need for looked after children to move to more intensive and expensive placements, they not only provide better outcomes for children and young people but are cost effective ... Collectively in Oxfordshire, these intensive programmes have contributed to lower than average numbers of Looked After Children and resulted in identifiable savings within the existing Children and Young People’s budget. They have helped to address general recruitment issues for foster carers, resulting in an 11 per cent rise in fostering. All types of carers (including foster carers and adopters) have reported improved levels of support resulting in improved long term stability (67–75 per cent in 2009/10), reduced adoption breakdowns and quantifiable savings in excess of £400,000’. (Submission by Fran Fonseca, Oxfordshire County Council, to the review.) p95
“Family Group Conferencing, which can engage the support of wider family and friends at an early stage of concerns about a child, to support birth parents and reduce the need for the child to enter care, is a particularly good way of ensuring that all of the resources within the family’s wider social networks have been tapped for the benefit of the child.” P34
“All safe and appropriate alternatives shouldbe explored before court proceedings are started. In some cases this might include placement with other family members or providing support through Family Group Conferences to discuss all aspects of the family situation.” (p28)