What is a Family Group Conference?
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A family group conference is a family-led meeting 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.
- We developed and run the accreditation scheme for family group conference services.
- We deliver family group conference coordinator training and consultancy to local authorities who wish to develop a family group conference service.
- We lead the national Family Group Conference and Lifelong Links Network.
- We are key players in the European family group conference network.
- We undertake and action research and lead practice developments.
- In partnership with the University of Salford, we deliver the only postgraduate programme on family group conferences in England and Wales.
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 over 20 countries 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 FGC process allows a family and their network to draw on their strengths and resources to make a safe plan for their children.
The FGC process can be broken down into five stages. These are shown below:
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
- Initial preparation
- Agreement for the family group conference to be held
- Involving the child/young person in a family group conference
- Who is invited to an family group conference
- Practical arrangements
- Meeting invited family members
- Advocates for the young person or adults who would benefit from additional support
- 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.