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When should children’s services think about kinship care? And how can family group conferences help?

General legal duty

In England, there is a general legal duty on children’s services to aim to keep children safe, well cared for and at home unless this would place them at risk. This is all set out in section 17 of the Children Act 1989).

Looking at how wider family may be able to help

If there are concerns parents are struggling or that a child may not be safe and well cared for at home, then children’s services should look at what support wider family and friends can provide. This may involve exploring whether family and friends can:

  • Support the child to live safely at home
  • Provide alternative care in the short term
  • Or, care for the child in the longer term as a permanent plan for the child.

Children’s services should explore this all at an early stage. This is confirmed in government statutory guidance:

‘It is important that wider family are identified and involved as early as possible as they can play a key role in supporting the child and help parents address identified problems. Where problems escalate and children cannot remain safely with parents, local authorities should seek to place children with suitable wider family members where it is safe to do so.’

A family group conference is a good way to do this.

A family group conference (FGC) is a family-led decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, at the family group conference, they make a plan for the child. See our Family group conferences: advice for families page for more information and advice. The page includes infographics, films, and FAQs to help families understand more about family group conferences, the process and family plans.

Government statutory guidance says:

‘Children’s services should consider making a referral for a family group conference ‘if they believe there is a possibility that the child may not be able to remain with their parents… unless this would place the child at risk.’

And that ‘wider family meetings, such as family group conferences are an important way of involving the family early ‘so that they can provide support to enable the child to remain at home or look at alternative permanence options for the child’

And: ‘Local authorities should consider referring the family to a family group conference service if they believe there is a possibility the child may not be able to remain with their parents, or in any event before a child becomes looked after[1], unless this would be a risk to the child.’

This is all set out in Volume 1 Children Act 1989: Court orders and pre-proceedings. This is statutory guidance which means children’s services must have regard it. The courts have said this means statutory guidance should be followed unless there is good reason not to (case of R v Islington LBC ex p Rixon [1998] 1).

It can be useful to know about this guidance and what it says. If relatives and friends face difficulties being involved in decision-making or in being assessed, they can politely remind children’s services about what the guidance says.


[1] If a child is described as a ‘looked after’ child it means either (i) children’s services are providing the child with a place to live and with a carer. This might be with unrelated foster carers, or in residential care for example, or (ii) a place to live and carer for the child has been arranged by children’s services. And is supported by children’s services. An example is a grandparent who has been assessed and approved by children’s services as a kinship foster carer for a child.

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