3.3.2 Family Group Conference
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter outlines the Hertfordshire approach to Family Group Conferences. The circumstances in which they may be used is described along with the process for making a referral to the Family Group Conference Service.
This chapter was revised and updated throughout in March 2015 and should be re-read in full.
Family Group Conferences (FGC) originated in New Zealand from the culture of the Maori people. They were first introduced in the UK in the mid 1990's.
FGC's recognise the rights and responsibilities of families and communities to make decisions about their children and they provide a framework for families to exercise this responsibility. It is a means by which the Local Authority (LA) and a family can work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people.
At the FGC it is the family who make the plan to meet the needs of the child/young person, after first being told what concerns and issues a plan will need to address, what resources are available and what will happen if the current situation does not change. The role of the LA is to support the family's plan, where possible, unless it continues to place a child at risk of significant harm.
FGC's recognise strengths within the family and it is a method of maximising the resources within that family. In maximising resources within the family, FGC's bring benefits to a child/young person who has the right to be cared for within the family environment where possible. For the Local Authority, there are obvious financial benefits in terms of the long term savings made in relation to resources saved.
FGC's have been proven, through research, to help produce better outcomes for children and young people by keeping them within their family or community.
The meetings are based on the belief that families can usually find their own solutions to their difficulties and that children and young people have a right to have their families involved in their future planning.
Feedback from children and young people and extended family members who have attended FGC's has shown that they find them a far better way of getting their wishes and feelings heard.
Consideration should be given to FGCs as part of a support plan for the family. FGCs should be considered where there is a likelihood of intervention to look at alternative support or care for the family.
Any family with a child/(ren) subject to a Child Protection Plan must be offered a Family Group Conference.
The Public Law Outline clearly indicates that FGCs must be considered prior to any proceedings.
Research clearly indicates that children do better in their own families. If that is not possible then the next best option would be a placement in their community and contact with family members.
- A child or young person in need has unmet needs which may result in them becoming Looked After;
- There is a real chance that a meeting could assist in the child leaving care to return to the care of their family or friends;
- There is a chance that the meeting could prevent a child suffering significant harm;
- The meeting will assist the care plan in legal proceedings;
- In order for a Family Group Conference to be viable there needs to be willingness for family members to meet each other in a room at the same time. This will need to be confirmed by the Social Worker with the family members.
A Social Worker / Professional Assistant/Support Worker is the only person who may refer at the moment, but Health Visitors, Teachers, Education Welfare Officers and other Professionals can consult with a Social Worker who will then consider making the referral.
Before a referral is made:
- Social Worker to discuss the possibility of using a FGC with the child and their family;
- Social Worker will discuss the possibility of using a FGC with their Team Manager;
- Team Manager will approve the use of a FGC.
Contact the FGC Manager of the Family Group Conference Service for an initial discussion if required and complete the Family Group Conference Report (referral to the FGC service) in the LCS record of the child. Where there is more than one child in the family subject to FGC, the form must be consolidated to include each child prior to completion.
There may be the need to exclude some individuals and families from the FGC process where certain risk factors are apparent.
The following individuals could be excluded from attending an FGC by the FGC Co-ordinator, following discussions with the referring Social Worker:
- Adults who are considered a risk to children;
- Individuals with a history of aggressive behaviour towards other family members and/or Social Care professionals.
The social worker will explain the benefits to the family of holding a FGC and will provide the child/young person, parents/carers and others with Legal Parental Responsibility (PR) with the FGC Information Leaflets. The Social Worker will ascertain whether the family wishes to be referred to the FGC Service and will only make a referral with the permission of the parents/those with PR and the child/young persons involved if they have the capacity to express their consent.
The referring social worker will complete the Family Group Conference Report Form (referral to the FGC Service) in the ICS record as above. Once the form has been completed it will be sent to the FGC Worktray on LCS and picked up by the FGC Support Officer.
The referrer will be contacted by the Support Officer of the FGC Service within a further 5 working days to confirm receipt of the referral and the name of the coordinator allocated to the family.
The FGC Co-ordinator, will contact the referrer so that a referral discussion can take place. This discussion will usually take place by telephone unless there are specific reasons to hold a meeting.
The allocated FGC Co-ordinator will only make contact with the family after the Referral discussion has taken place.
The FGC Co-coordinator will then visit the child and family members and explain the process of a FGC to the child and explore their wishes and feelings. The FGC Co-ordinator will also work out with the family who needs to come to the meeting.
The use of an Advocate will be discussed with the child to see if this helps them express their views. The Advocate may be a member of their family, a Teacher or other adult who they trust. There is also a dedicated Advocate for the child within the FGC team if the child is over 8 years old.
The FGC Co-ordinator will arrange the venue and time for the FGC that is convenient for the family.
The venue should not belong to CS&SS (Children's Social Care), as this may affect the impartiality of the process and potentially reduce the empowerment of the family to provide their own solutions.
Timing of the FGC will need to be convenient to as many of the family members and friends as possible; therefore, it is likely to be in the evenings after work, and some may take place at weekends. Invitations will be sent out via the FGC Service.
Linguistic needs will have to be considered which may require the use of an interpreter. This will be arranged by the coordinator if necessary.
Hearing needs will have to be considered.
Literacy needs will also have to be considered.
Cultural perspectives will also need to be considered for family members.
Disability issues will have to be considered including the access of the building.
Child care and transport for the FGC will be funded by CS&SS where appropriate.
The Social Worker will be asked to share information in the form of a short report. It is important that the key family members are aware of what will be in this report, as confidential information will be shared with their extended family at least one week before the FGC.
The report does not have to follow the guidelines of the Assessment Framework or other departmental documents. The FGC coordinator will draft a report from the information received from the social worker. They will send the draft report to the social worker for checking and any additions. The social worker will then send it back to the coordinator prior to the conference.
The FGC is separated into three parts:
The Social Worker will read through their report and state what options are not acceptable (for example the placement of a child with someone who would put the child at risk of significant harm). The FGC Co-ordinator chairs the meeting.
The information session will also include the opportunity for the family to ask as many questions as they need to enable them to make a safe plan.
The family will then be given private time without the professionals present to decide what actions they can take to assist the child.
The process may take a few hours to complete and therefore refreshments will be provided and the family can take as many breaks as they wish.
The FGC Co-ordinator and Social worker will be available to answer questions from the family during private time if the need arises (they will be situated in a nearby room).
Once the family have completed their discussions and have agreed a plan on how they will help the child/young person.
The FGC Co-ordinator and Social worker will come back into the room. The Family Plan is read out either by the Co-ordinator or a family member. Any additional information required is gathered by the coordinator and written into the plan in italics.
Any resources or support from CS&SS (Social Care) will be discussed.
If agreement cannot be given immediately by the Social Worker for these resources then a date will be identified by when the Social Worker will have a decision about them.
There will need to be provisional agreement by the Social Worker at the meeting for the plan (on behalf of CS&SS), unless it places the child or young person at risk of significant harm.
The FGC Co-ordinator will check whether the family wishes to have a FGC Review and if so, set this for a date agreed with the family. Important dates such as court hearings will be taken into account, including religious festivals etc.
At the end of the meeting, the FGC coordinator will also hand out Evaluation Forms to the family members who will be asked to complete the short form and return it to the coordinator. These forms will be used to evaluate the service and inform any changes.
The FGC Support Officer/coordinator will send out a typed version of the Family Plan to all attendees of the Family Group Conference.
The Support Officer will attach a copy of the Family Plan to the child's case record. A copy of the Family Plan will also be sent to the social worker along with an Evaluation Form for the social worker to complete and return.
If the Family Plan needs to be revised the Social Worker should make arrangements with the Co-ordinator to hold an FGC Review.
However, the family should automatically be offered a FGC Review to check on changes to the Family Plan, and this usually takes place about 3 months after the first FGC.
The Social Worker will be expected to attend the FGC Review.
Prior to the review the coordinator will contact the social worker to discuss what has worked well in the plan and what still needs to happen. At the review the family and social worker will add to these points and draw up questions for the review based on what difficulties the family still need to address.
The rest of the Review will follow exactly the same process as the initial FGC.
It is unusual to offer further reviews unless it is of particular value to the child or young person.
An annual report will be produced that will evaluate effectiveness of the FGC Service.
A n evaluation of the feedback forms completed by the family members and the social worker will also be made annually.
Where a recommendation for an FGC is made at a Child Protection Conference the following procedures apply:
- The recommendation to offer a family an FGC is written into the outline Child Protection Plan;
- The child's Social Worker approaches the family to ascertain whether they wish to access the FGC Service. This should happen within two weeks of the recommendation being made;
- If the family agrees to the FGC a referral will be made in the usual way;
- If a family refuse the FGC Service, the Core Group should develop the Child Protection plan as usual and the child's Social Worker report this back to the next Child Protection Conference.
Where a recommendation for an FGC is made at a CLA Statutory Review, the following procedures apply:
- The recommendation for an FGC is recorded within the Review Decisions;
- The child's Social Worker approaches the family within five working days of the recommendation being made and ascertains whether the family wishes to access the FGC Service;
- If the family agrees to the referral, the FGC will be held and the family's plan agreed as long as it does not place a child at risk of significant harm;
- If a family refuses the FGC Service, the child's Social Worker reports this back at the next CLA Statutory Review.
Where a recommendation for an FGC is the result of a recommendation from the HARP (see Hertfordshire Access to Resources Panel (H.A.R.P) and Delegated Authority for Resource Agreement Procedure) the following procedures apply:
- The Social Worker for the child will make contact with the family within five working days to explain to them about the FGC Service and ascertain whether the family wishes to have an FGC;
- If the family agrees to an FGC, child's social worker will begin the FGC process;
- If the family refuses the Service, the Social Worker for the child will feed back to the next HARP meeting.
Although there are many overlaps between the Family Group Conference Service and the promotion of Family and Friends (Connected Persons) Care, the two are distinct services and as a result they have differing procedures (see Family and Friends and Connected Person Carers Procedure). One of the aims of the FGC Service is to promote family alternatives to local authority care.
Referrals relating to Family and Friends (Connected Persons) care will be considered if the child/young person is at risk of, or is already, Looked After.
Examples of appropriate Family Group Conference referrals are where:
- Several family members have agreed to care for a young person and there is disagreement within the family as to who will take on this role;
- Care proceedings are ongoing and family alternatives to care are being considered.
The involvement of the FGC Service will end after the Review FGC has taken place or if it is agreed that a Review FGC is not necessary.
It is the responsibility of the child's Social Worker to monitor a family's plan and to work with the family to ensure that a plan continues to be successful.
The roles of the Manager for the FGC Service, Social Worker for the child/young person and FGC Coordinator are quite distinct.
The role of the Social Worker is to:
- Ensure that the child/young person and the family are given the appropriate FGC information leaflets - and fully understand the content of them;
- Complete a FGC Referral Form within the same five working days timeframe. Be available for a Referral discussion with the allocated FGC Co-ordinator, as soon as possible after allocation;
- Work with the coordinator to produce a brief, jargon free report with a "bottom line" for the FGC, which will be shared with the parents/ primary carers/those with PR for the child and the child/young person at least one week before the FGC (earlier if possible);
- Maintain communication with the FGC Co-ordinator during the process of organising the FGC;
- Look into available resources and services to potentially meet the family's plan;
- Be available to attend the FGC from beginning to end;
- Present the report to the FGC in the Information Sharing Stage and to answer any questions the family may have;
- Be clear with the family about the process of agreeing their plan and what will happen if a plan cannot be agreed at the meeting;
- Complete the Social Worker's Evaluation Form once received and return it to the Support Officer of the FGC Service;
- Monitor a family's plan;
- Attend any review FGCs;
- Continue with Statutory Social Work responsibilities.
The role of the Manager/ Support Officer for FGCs is to:
- Receive referrals for an FGC;
- Contact the referrer within 5 days of receiving the referral;
- Allocate a FGC Co-ordinator, within the same 5 working day timeframe;
- Collate the evaluation forms (family/child/social worker) to ensure there is a consistently high standard of practice within the FGC Service;
- Consider the responses to the evaluation forms and take any action necessary to improve the Service;
- Respond to the family/professionals regarding any issues raised in the evaluation forms, informing them of any actions to be taken as a result of the issues raised;
- Collate the Coordinator Feedback Form to inform best use of the FGC Service;
- Arrange for payment for work undertaken by the FGC Co-ordinator.
The FGC Co-ordinator is independent from statutory decision-making processes. The role of the FGC Co-ordinator is to:
- Conduct the Referral Discussion;
- Make contact with the parents/carers/persons with PR and the child/young person within five working days of Referral Meeting;
- Meet with the parents/carers/persons with PR and child/young person to explain the FGC Service and to ensure that the family wants an FGC;
- Identify with the family their kinship network;
- Support the child/young person to be able to attend the FGC and/or to express their views, wishes and feelings;
- Identify a supporter/advocate for the child/young person if they state they need/would like one;
- Ensure all family members are prepared for the FGC;
- Ensure the FGC takes place within the 30 working days timeframe;
- Arrange a venue for the meeting as agreed with the family, organise catering, transport, child care arrangements and any interpretation services;
- Maintain communication with the child's Social Worker throughout the process of organising the FGC;
- Make decisions relating to the exclusion of individual family members from the FGC;
- Chair the FGC;
- Support the family to develop their plan if they want support;
- Record the family's plan to be presented back to the FGC;
- Ensure that monitoring arrangements for a family's plan are put in place and a date is agreed for a Review FGC;
- Make arrangements for the family's plan to be copied and sent out to all attendees within 5 working days of the FGC;
- Collect child/young person/family evaluation forms and send to the Support Officer of the FGC Service;
- Complete the Coordinator Feedback Form and send to the Support Officer of the FGC Service, along with the Family Plan and other paperwork within 5 working days of the conference.