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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

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Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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What is a Family Group Conference?

Introduction to family group conferences

A family group conference is a family-led decision making process in which the family and friends network come together to make a plan for a child. The process is supported by an independent coordinator who helps the family prepare for the family group conference. Children are usually involved in their own family group conference, often with support from an advocate. It is a voluntary process and families cannot be forced into one. If you are a parent or family member and want to understand more about the family group conference process, please visit our Family group conferences: advice for families section.

Family Rights Group has been at the forefront of the development and introduction of family group conferences in the United Kingdom.

The development of family group conferences

Family group conferences draw upon Maori culture and their development was a response to the large number of Maori children being removed into state institutions. Family group conferences are now recognised in law in New Zealand, in fact it is a requirement that before any child can be taken into state care, a referral for a family group conference must be made.

The development of family group conferences in England began in the early 1990s when Family Rights Group invited a group of practitioners from New Zealand to share information and their experience of practice. Subsequently the charity has continued to lead the way in promoting the development of FGCs in England, Wales and Scotland, leading an FGC network, running training and consultancy services, hosting events and co-partnering international conferences on FGCs, publishing newsletters, books and a training pack to support agencies in developing FGC and promoting the FGC model through lobbying.

Family group conferences are used in approximately 30 countries worldwide including Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the USA and the UK.

Family group conferences can be used whenever a situation is sufficiently serious that a plan and decision needs to be made about a vulnerable child. They are now being used in the UK in all areas of child welfare including:

  • Preventative services
  • Safeguarding work including domestic abuse
  • Court proceedings
  • Looked after children and planning for leaving care
  • Education (to address truancy and reduce exclusions)
  • Anti-social behaviour and youth justice including restorative justice.

Some local authorities have developed services using the model to address the needs of adult service users and their families including:

  • Safeguarding work with adults including elder abuse
  • Adults with learning disabilities
  • Adults with mental health difficulties

Internationally they have been used for: the release of prisoners from jail (South Africa), the discharge of adults from hospital (Holland) and in addressing homelessness and debt (Holland).

The family group conference process

The FGC process allows a family and their network to draw on their strengths and resources to make a safe plan for their children.

The family group conference process infographic

The FGC process can be broken down into five stages. These are shown below:

1. Referral

The process starts by a family being referred to a family group conference service. The person who makes the referral is the ‘referrer’. They will usually know and be working with the child or family. This could be a social worker, teacher or health visitor for example.

2. Coordinator appointed

Their job is to help families plan for their family group conference. They help families to think about the plans and decisions that need to be made. They are neutral.

3. The eight preparation steps

  1. Initial preparation
  2. Agreement for the family group conference to be held
  3. Involving the child/young person in a family group conference
  4. Who is invited to an family group conference
  5. Practical arrangements
  6. Meeting invited family members
  7. Advocates for the young person or adults who would benefit from additional support
  8. Meeting the practitioners to prepare them for the family group conference.

4. The conference

Stage one: information sharing
The person who made the referral will share information about why the conference has been convened. Once the referrer has set out their information, the family can take time to ask questions.

Stage two: private family time
Stage two begins once the family has all the information they need to help them to make a plan. During this private family time practitioners and the coordinator leave the room. The child or vulnerable adult’s advocate (or supporter) may remain with the child if the family agrees.

Stage three: agreeing the plan
The coordinator will ask the family to explain their plan. After explaining, they may be asked to clarify some details further.

The referrer is then asked whether they agree to the plan. They should agree to the plan as long as it is legal, safe and addresses the ‘bottom line’.

If there are ongoing court proceedings, the court may need to agree to the plan before it is implemented.

The coordinator should make sure that everyone who attended the family group conference has a copy of the plan.

5. Review of the plan

The coordinator asks the family if they would like a review family group conference three months later or at another time agreed with the family. At the review family group conference family and practitioners meet together to look at the plan. They discuss if it is working, what is not working well and what parts need developing.

For more detailed information on each of the steps of a family group conference, please see Family group conferences: advice for families.

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