SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are increasingly being used to make plans for vulnerable children.
The Public Law Outline requires that a record of key discussions with the family (which could include a family plan arising out of a FGC) is filed by the local authority when proceedings are issued as part of the pre-proceedings checklist and that active case management includes encouraging the parties to use an alternative dispute resolution procedure where appropriate during the proceedings, which is likely to include the use of FGCs.
Although there is no legal requirement to use FGCs in England and Wales, they are now being offered to families in the majority of local authorities on a range of child welfare issues including:
A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a decision making meeting in which a child's wider family network come together to make a plan about the future arrangements for the child. The plan will ensure that (s)he is safe and his/her wellbeing is promoted.
FGCs are intended as a respectful and empowering process in which parents, children and members of the wider family Connected Persons are given clear information about the agency's concerns and are asked to produce a plan that addresses those concerns and answers specific queries.
The expectation is that the family's plan will be agreed by the referring agency provided it adequately addresses the concerns which the agency has identified and is safe for the child.Every family is unique and has its own community values, culture, personalities, dynamics and history. A FGC uses the family's own skills, strengths and personal knowledge to resolve difficulties. Using the family's own expertise and ensuring their involvement in the FGC process can help to redress the power imbalances that are experienced by children/young people and their families. A major strength of the FGC is that the child or young person normally participates in the meeting and can therefore have a major influence on the plans that are made for him/her.
Referral for a Family Group Conference will require:
Referral for a FGC can come from the lead worker for the case who will usually be the social worker.
Situations where a referral for a FGC should be considered include the following:
FGC's can be offered to a family on more than one occasion if there is social care involvement.
However, there are some situations where A FGC is contra-indicated. These include:
Each case would need to be discussed on its merits and through consultation with the relevant SW team manager, Service Manager and the FGC team coordinator.Referral for a FGC does not mean that a FGC will take place if it is agreed that it would not be appropriate following discussion between the referrer and the FGC team coordinator. A referral would not proceed if the family refused consent to share information that is relevant to safeguard the child/ren / young person.
Initial discussions are held between the referrer, and the FGC team coordinator to ensure the appropriateness of the referral.
The referrer must discuss the referral with the child's carer(s) who hold Parental Responsibility. Verbal consent to the referral and the sharing of basic information must be obtained to proceed.
If proceedings have been issued, the referring agency must inform the child's guardian that they are making the referral to the FGC service. The FGC Practitioner must also contact the child's guardian so that they are aware that the FGC is taking place and has accurate information about what a FGC is.
The FGC team coordinator or a FGC Practitioner will arrange to meet with the referrer) to discuss the referral in detail. This meeting will clarify the issues be addressed, e.g. specific areas of concern, issues of race / language / disability, how introductions of the Practitioner to the family will be made, the means of on-going communication throughout the FGC process, clarification of roles and responsibilities, how the plan will be validated. This discussion will also identify the details of any "bottom line". The referral does not need to include detailed background information.
The FGC team coordinator will need to ensure:
It is important that both the professionals and the family are clear about the purpose of the conference and what they are hoping to achieve from it.The referral will then be allocated to an FGC Practitioner who then begins to facilitate the FGC.
FGCs services will always be co-ordinated independently from the service or team which has concerns about the child's safety and wellbeing. The FCG Practitioner is neutral i.e. that they have no case holding, statutory or decision making responsibilities in relation to the child. The FGC Practitioner should not have had any previous involvement with the family or represent the views of any agency working with the family nor would they attend other meetings connected with the child so as not to compromise their independence.
The role of the independent FCG Practitioner is vital in negotiating attendance at a FGC and in informing all participants about the process involved. This role is separate from other professionals' involvement with the family.
This will mean preparatory visits to family members, children and professionals.
Ensuring the attendance of Connected Persons is crucial to the success of the conference. This may mean that family members may have to travel some distance and in special circumstances from abroad. Other items for consideration are the choice of the venue, the availability of interpreters, child care etc.
The FGC Practitioner organises the meeting in conjunction with the child/young person and those with parental responsibility and/or immediate carers, identifying who is in the family network for the child, including close friends. Discussion will take place with the family about who needs to be present. Guardians are not automatically invited to the FGC as the invitation list is decided by the family.
The FGC Practitioner discusses with the child / young person how they may be enabled to participate in the conference and whether they would like a supporter or advocate in the meeting. The child / young person must be enabled to participate fully within the process and it is the FGC Practitioner's role to find flexible and imaginative ways of achieving this. If the child / young person requires an advocate then the co-ordinator will match them with an independent advocate and they will contact the family direct. The advocate will engage with the child(ren) concerned and ensure their views are known to the FGC Practitioner and during the FGC.
Unless there is a good reason not to, the FGC Practitioner must visit everyone in person to help to prepare them for the meeting, discuss worries or concerns, including how the meeting will be conducted and encourage them to attend. If the FGC Practitioner feels that it would be inappropriate for a particular family member to attend, then a decision can be taken to exclude them from the FGC.
This will be an exception and if exclusion was to take place it would be based on the child's best interests. Examples could include: a person being a Schedule 1 Offender, risk of harm to the child / young person attending, a history of domestic violence and a severe power imbalance in the family such that the victims would be too intimidated if the perpetrator was present.
Should this be the case, their input to the meetings must be achieved in alternative ways, for example through letters or tape recordings. The grounds for exclusion must be clear and must be put in writing to the particular family member. The decision to exclude a family member rests with the FGC Practitioner and may occur immediately prior to the conference if someone is deemed unfit to attend e.g. due to alcohol or drug use.
The FGC Practitioner liaises with the referrer and other relevant agencies to ensure family members have appropriate information about:
Where a Child Protection Plan is in place or is being considered, it is essential to discuss how the FGC plan will contribute to keeping the child safe and reduce the risks that have been identified in the Child Protection Plan.
FGC's are family led meetings and not all professionals involved with the family need to attend. For this reason, it is better practice not to incorporate a Core Group Meeting into a FGC.
The Family Plan drawn up at the FGC must be sent to the Safeguarding IRO so it can be included in the review of the child protection plan.
Family members who have agreed to monitor the Family Plan should be invited to the child protection review conference to ensure that there is continuity between the two processes.
The FGC does not remove or replace the need for Child Protection Conferences.Where the FGC process uncovers new information that of the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm the FGC Practitioner must inform the child's social worker immediately. If the child does not have or was not referred by a social worker then a contact must be made to CSWS (see Contacts and Referrals Procedure).
The Family Group Conference is held with the following three stages:
This part of the meeting is chaired by the FGC Practitioner who makes sure that everyone is introduced, that everyone present understands the purpose and process of the FGC and agrees how the meeting will be conducted, including if considered helpful by those present, explicit ground rules.
Professionals will not need to provide a written report but will be expected to provide a verbal contribution detailing the strengths of the family, issues of concern, services available and the "bottom line". Agencies must also be prepared to respond to any queries that the conference members may have (This could include questions from family members and advocates).
The type of information that is helpful to present to the family includes the following:
The presentation of information is important, the FGC is not a Child Protection Conference and it is helpful that the information that is presented is clear and understandable to the family. General issues include:
The child/young person and family members may also provide information via an advocate or other supporter, ask for clarification or ask questions.
The FGC Practitioner and professionals withdraw from the meeting after the information sharing stage and professionals, apart from the referrer, can leave the meeting at this point. The family members must have time and privacy to talk among themselves and come up with a plan that addresses the concerns raised in the information giving part of the conference, identifying resources and support which are required from agencies, as well as within the family to make it work.
The FGC Practitioner will join the family for private planning time only if the family ask for them to be present, otherwise the family are left on their own to discuss and plan. If an advocate is present the child/young person will decide whether or not they want their advocate to remain during private family time.
The family then produce their plan. The FGC Practitioner can assist with this if the family requests this but the plan should be written by the family. If the FGC Practitioner is asked to write the plan they must write it in the family's own words. The referrer and the Practitioner meet with the family to discuss and agree the plan and negotiate resources. The referrer may need to consult with their manager before accepting the plan but it is hoped that any discussions will have taken place prior to the FGC.
It is expected that the family plan is accepted by the referring agency unless the issue of the child's safety and well-being has not been satisfactorily addressed and the child is deemed to be suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
Any reasons for not accepting the plan must be made clear immediately and the family should be given the opportunity to respond to the concerns and change or add to the plan if necessary.
It is important to ensure that any child/young person present has a clear understanding of what is decided and that their views are understood.
The family's plan will be presented to the referrer at the end of the conference. It is expected that the referrer will remain at the FGC until the family have made their plan. Discussion will take place between the FGC Practitioner and referrer and other agencies that may have been requested by the family to provide services. If the referrer is not present at the end of the conference the family will be contacted by the referrer within three days to be advised about the professional view of the family plan.
The FGC Practitioner types the family plan, unless the family want to do this themselves and distributes the plan to all relevant agencies and the family within three days of the conference. There are no formal minutes of the FGC - The plan is the only record of the FGC.
In addition to the plan agreed by the family, the following information should be included by the Practitioner on a separate sheet:
All those concerned need to implement their parts of the plan within agreed timescales and communicate and address any concerns which arise. The family will be asked to nominate a family member/friend, or ideally two people, who will take responsibility for informing the referrer if the plan is not working and/or needs adjustments.
A review date for the FGC will be agreed at the conference and is usually planned to be held no later than six weeks after the initial FGC. The review will be convened by the FGC Practitioner and the referring agency will be expected to attend. The date and time for this will be written into the family plan.
The review enables the family and the referrer to check out if the plan is working and to adjust the levels of support or resources necessary.
All families will be offered a review but it is the family's decision as to whether a formal review takes place. Families may choose to review the plan themselves informally and will update workers on progress.
The review is arranged on the same principles as the original meeting, i.e. with private family time. It will be the responsibility of the referrer to update the family group of the current situation in relation to the child/young person or any significant changes which have occurred since the initial meeting.Any changes to the family plan arising from the Review FGC will be agreed and circulated in the same way as the initial plan.
The FGC services involvement will end once the initial and review FGC's have taken place.
Involvement will also end if:
The FGC service's primary function is to facilitate the Family Group Conference and any recording will relate solely to the conference. A record is maintained on the electronic case file system, however this is held separately on the system from the main case record. If information is given which relates to concerns for a child's or other person's safety this information will be sent to the social worker for them to record.The referrer will be responsible for recording their involvement with the FGC and the outcome of the conference. Social workers will be expected to record information on LiquidLogic, including a copy of the family’s plan. It is the referrer's responsibility to share all key documentation including relevant sections of the plan with guardians and the court.