Family Group Conference
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter outlines the Hertfordshire approach to Family Group Conferences (FGC). The circumstances in which they may be used is described along with the process for making a referral to the Family Group Conference Service.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was revised and updated throughout in September 2020 and should be re-read in full.
1. What is a Family Group Conference?
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.
Why should I Refer?
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.
The Public Law Outline clearly indicates that FGCs must be considered prior to any proceedings.
Research clearly indicates that children are best placed 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.
2.2 Referral Criteria
- A child or young person in need has unmet needs which could be met by the family;
- Support from the family could prevent a child suffering significant harm;
- Holding an FGC may prevent a child 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;
- An FGC could assist the care plan in legal proceedings;
- Parents/carers must provide informed consent for a referral to be made for an FGC.
2.3 Who can Refer?
A social worker / children's practitioner can refer to the FGC Service.
Other professionals (e.g. health visitors, teachers, Children's Centre outreach workers) can consult with a social worker who will then consider making the referral.
Before a referral is made the referrer must discuss the possibility of using an FGC with the child and their family and to gain their consent and inform them that they can withdraw consent if they wish to at any point.
2.4 Making a Referral
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 consent of the parents/those with PR and the child/young persons involved if they have the capacity to express their consent.
When making a referral the social worker/children's practitioner can contact the FGC Manager of the Family Group Conference Service for an initial discussion if required and complete the Family Group Conference Referral Form (referral to the FGC Service) in the LCS record. Once the form has been completed it will be sent to the FGC Worktray on LCS and picked up by the FGC Support Officer.
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.
The referrer will be contacted by the FGC support officer within 5 working days to confirm receipt of the referral and the name of the coordinator allocated to the family.
The FGC coordinator, will contact the referrer so that a Referral discussion can take place. This discussion will usually take place by telephone/video call unless there are specific reasons to hold a meeting.
The allocated FGC coordinator will only make contact with the family after the Referral discussion has taken place.
The FGC coordinator and the Referrer will work together to complete a short report (FGC Report) for the family, outlining the strengths of the family, concerns/reasons for an FGC and setting out the questions to be addressed at the FGC. This report will need to be agreed by the Referrer before the coordinator can undertake the initial visit with the family.
For further guidance regarding referrals, please see FGC Referrals - Top Tips.
3. Managing Risk
Throughout the FGC process we will be mindful of potential risks to children and those participating in the FGC.
Risks may have been identified by the professional network or family.
We will take measures to discuss and manage these risks with the social worker and the FGC coordinator will complete a risk assessment if needed prior to holding the FGC.
We will endeavour to hold whole family meetings which will include both maternal & paternal family networks wherever it is safe and possible to do so.
However, there may be occasions when the FGC coordinator and the social worker will decided that there is a need to hold separate Maternal & Paternal FGCs or there is a need to exclude an individual / individuals from the FGC process due to the risks factors for example:
- Adults who are considered a risk to children;
- Individuals with a history of aggressive behaviour towards other family members and/or Social Care professionals.
Where possible, and where safe to do so, views and wishes will be gathered from those participants that cannot attend the FGC, and their views will be shared at the FGC by the coordinator.
4. Before the Family Group Conference
The FGC coordinator will visit the child/ren and family members at their homes/agreed location and explain the process of an FGC and work out with the family who needs to come to their meeting.
4.1 Initial visit to those with PR
At the initial visit the parents/carers will be asked to agree and sign the FGC report, as it will be shared with the wider family/network to prepare them for the FGC.
The coordinator will encourage the parents / family to comment / identify any further strengths / concerns & what they would like to achieve by having a family meeting.
It is important that all participants are aware of the concerns to enable them to offer the most appropriate support to the child/ren going forward.
4.2 Inclusion of Children
FGC coordinators will gain consent of parents/carers to meet with the child/ren to explain the FGC process, explore their wishes and feelings, identify who they would like to attend the meeting and where possible and appropriate invite and prepare them to attend the FGC.
Where children would like to attend the FGC the coordinator will go through the FGC process with them, encouraging them to plan the FGC (e.g. decide venue, decide on food) and discuss who they would like to attend the FGC.
If children do not want to attend the FGC the coordinator will support them by sharing their views at the FGC. They will spent time with the child/ren to gather their wishes and feelings and agree with how these will be shared. This could be through a letter to their family, a picture/drawing, photographs, or recording a video. Consideration will also be given to calling into the meeting by phone or video.
To ensure that the child/ren remain the focus of the FGC if they are not attending, not only will the coordinator share their wishes and feelings and remind the family regularly of the reasons that they are attending the FGC, but they will also have a visual representation of the child/ren on display. This can be a photo of the child/ren or a drawing that the child/ren have made.
4.3 Inclusion of adults
Following the initial visit and the work with the children the coordinator will make contact with all the family members/network. Where possible the coordinator will undertake home visits to explain the purpose and process of the FGC and identify the family's availability to attend an FGC.
Where face to face visits are not possible (e.g. due to location/safety) the coordinator will contact family/network members via phone/video call. If individuals are not able to attend the FGC itself they will be supported in attending virtually by teleconference or video conference.
If any family/network members are unable to take part in the FGC their wishes and feelings will be gathered to share at the FGC.
Vulnerable adults may need support to attend/take part in an FGC. Where this is the case the coordinators will ensure that they are able to play in active role throughout the FGC process, e.g. identifying an advocate or another family member who can support etc. If there are language needs then interpreters or signers will be used throughout the process to support the individuals to play a full part in the FGC process.
4.4 Planning the FGC Meeting
The FGC Coordinator will arrange the venue and time for the FGC that is convenient for the family. Where possible the child/ren will play a key role in arranging the FGC.
The venue should be a neutral venue, i.e. not belong to Children's Services or be held at a family home, 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 be convenient to as many of the family members and friends as possible; therefore, many FGCs are held in the evenings after work, and even at weekends. Each family/network member will receive an invitation to the FGC, outlining meeting details as well setting out the questions to be addressed at the FGC.
Where family members are not able to physically attend the FGC then other ways of including them will be explored, such as dialing in via telephone or video call.
Disability issues will have to be considered including the access of the building / facilities in the building. Where required signers and interpreters will need to used both at the FGC as well as throughout the FGC process.
Transport for the FGC will be funded by Children's Services where appropriate.
5. Structure of the Family Group Meeting
The FGC coordinator chairs the FGC. The allocated social worker, or a duty social worker, must attend the FGC, this is a clear expectation and is firmly established as good practice in Hertfordshire.
The FGC is separated into three parts:
5.1 Information Sharing
The social worker will read through the FGC Report – outlining the strengths, concerns and bottom line. 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.
This will be the time when the children will be supported to share their wishes and feelings if they are in attendance. If the children are not attending the coordinator will share their wishes & feelings and ensure that the focus of the FGC is kept on the children
5.2 Private Family Time
The family will 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 coordinator 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).
5.3 Agreeing the Plan
Once the family have completed their discussions and have agreed a plan on how they will help the child/young person.
The FGC coordinator and social worker will come back into the room. The Family Plan is read out either by the coordinator or a family member. Any additional information required is gathered by the coordinator and written into the plan in italics. There is also space on the plan for the family to add any additional comments that they would like included.
Any resources or support need from Children's Services will be discussed and agreed. The social worker will have spoken to their Manager prior to the meeting / or be able to access management support / decision making if the family have a request that they would like to incorporate into the plan.
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 Children's Services), unless it places the child or young person at risk of significant harm. If for any reasons the plan cannot be agreed (e.g. awaiting outcome of Court) then a date will be set out on when the plan will be agreed and how this will be shared with the family/network.
The coordinator will support the family in identifying who within the family will monitor the Family Plan and what actions will be taken if the plan is not working as planned. Agreement will also be made as to well how the plan will be supported/monitored, e.g. at Child In Need/Core Group meetings.
The FGC coordinator will check whether the family wishes to have an 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.
Before the meeting ends the coordinator will ensure that everyone has the correct contact details to communicate with each other following the FGC.
At the end of the meeting, the FGC coordinator will also hand out Evaluation Forms to the family members and the social worker, 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.
Following the meeting the FGC Coordinator will type up the Family Plan. The FGC Support Officer will send 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 LCS case record. A copy of the Family Plan will also be sent to the social worker.
One of the aims of the FGC is to support and empower families to take forward their family plan, monitor this, reviewing and changing the plan as needed in the future. However, all families will be offered an FGC Review where the coordinator and social worker attend to check the progress of the Family Plan, and this usually takes place about 3 months after the first FGC. 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 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, this includes looking at the outcomes for children that have had an FGC.
An evaluation of the feedback forms completed by the family members and the social worker will also be made annually.
8. Closure of FGC Service Involvement
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 children's social worker to monitor a family's plan and to work with the family to ensure that a plan continues to be successful.
9. Roles and Responsibilities
The roles of the manager for the FGC Service, social worker for the child/young person and FGC coordinator are quite distinct.
9.1 Role of the Children's social worker
The role of the social worker is to:
- Ensure that the children and the family are given the appropriate information regarding the FGC purpose and process, including proving the family with FGC information leaflets;
- Gain consent from those with PR to make the referral to the FGC Service;
- Complete an FGC Referral Form;
- Be available for a Referral discussion with the allocated FGC Coordinator, as soon as possible after allocation;
- Work with the coordinator to produce an FGC Report, which will be shared with the parents/primary carers/those with PR for the child at the initial visit and at the FGC itself;
- Maintain communication with the FGC Coordinator 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 FGC Report 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.
9.2 Role of the FGC Coordinator
The FGC Coordinator is independent from statutory decision-making processes. The role of the FGC Coordinator 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 support network;
- Support the child/young person to be able to attend the FGC and/or to express their views, wishes and feelings where appropriate;
- 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, and any interpretation services;
- Maintain communication with the child's Social Worker throughout the process of organising 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 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.
9.3 Role of the FGC Team manager/support officer
The role of the Manager/ Support Officer for FGCs is to:
- Receive referrals for an FGC and request more information/clarification if necessary;
- Allocate an FGC coordinator, within the same 5 working day timeframe;
- Contact the referrer within 5 days of receiving the referral;
- Oversee the work of the coordinators (including regular consultations);
- Support the coordinator with practice issues that arise during their work (including any safeguarding issues);
- Respond to any queries raised by social workers/family members where they arise;
- 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 coordinator.
10. Additional Information
For more information on the FGC service, please visit the FGC Intranet pages.