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New study shows family group conferences keep children out of the care system

Published: 13th June 2023

4 minute read

Family Rights Group welcomes research released today by Foundations (formerly What Works for Children’s Social Care). The study definitively shows that family group conferences (FGCs) help families resolve concerns, keep children safely within their family network and avert children from entering the care system.

A family group conference is a family-led meeting in which the family and friends network come together to make a plan for the child. This might mean extra support for the parents to continue safely raising their child or identifying relatives or friends who can step in as the child’s kinship carer. 

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. 

The Randomised Control Trial study was conducted in 21 local authorities.  The evaluation team led by Coram focused upon families involved in the pre-proceedings process, which is when a local authority is considering issuing care proceedings. The study compared child and parental outcomes of families referred for a family group conference with those not referred. The researchers found that family group conferences were cost effective, with children in referred families significantly less likely to go into care. Twelve months after the pre-proceedings letter, children whose families were referred for a family group conference were 8.6 percentage points less likely to go into care. 

Family Rights Group is calling on the Government to invest in family group conference services across the country and make it a right for all families involved with children’s services to be offered a family group conference.

Kevin_MakwikilaAfter taking part in a family group conference, Kevin Makwikila said:

“As a father, I often felt like the ghost in the room when children’s services were involved with my family. When my family were able to be together in one room during the family group conference, it was so much easier to see who could help with what and it was clear and easy for me to understand what and whom I could rely on in any given situation. Some of my family members offered to provide temporary housing to my son and I until our housing issues could be resolved. Others offered to care for my son at weekends to give me a break and some offered food and financial support. The level of support was wonderful, and this ensured my plans would go well.” 

Cathy_AshleyCathy Ashley, Family Rights Group’s chief executive, said:

“This important new research conducted by Foundations adds to a mounting body of evidence that family group conferences help children to live safely and thrive within their families, avoiding the need for care proceedings. 

“We also know from research that families who have experienced a family group conference describe feeling heard and empowered to work in partnership with children’s services in the interests of their child. By placing families at the heart of the process, it provides a way for parents and wider family and community networks to actively participate in developing plans that ensure their child’s well-being and safety.  

At a time when there is a record number of children in care, it is now beyond doubt that all families should be offered a family group conference before their child is taken into care. These findings confirm that Government should adopt this approach nationwide rather than the limited system of pathfinders currently being pursued.  To do so would be an ambitious step in helping address the crisis in our child welfare system.” 

Notes to editors:

Family Rights Group is the leading authority on family group conferences in the UK and has been at the forefront of developing and promoting high standards of practice. The charity introduced family group conferences to the UK in the 1990s from New Zealand where the approach originates.

Family Rights Group trains family group conference coordinators and provides consultancy to local authorities seeking to set up or expand their family group conference service. The charity also runs a quality assurance accreditation programme for family group conference services and has hosted the national Family Group Conference and Lifelong Links Network since 1999.

The charity campaigns for family group conferences to be offered to every family involved with the child welfare system. 

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