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:
AMENDMENTThis chapter was updated locally in June 2019. It should be re-read in it's entirety.
A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a problem solving and decision making meeting within a professionally supportive framework. A child's wider family network and naturally Connected Persons come together to make and own a plan which supports the care, protection and wellbeing of the child.
FGCs are based on the principles of partnership and are a means of engaging and empowering families. Those persons who are in the child's network are given clear information about the agency's worries and are asked to make a plan that addresses these.
The expectation is that the family's plan will be agreed by the referrer provided it adequately addresses the worries 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 is welcomed to participate in the meeting and can therefore have a major influence on the plans that are made for them.
Referral for a FGC will be accepted 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 discussion will need to take place regarding whether a FCG is appropriate. These include:
Each case would need to be discussed on its merits and through consultation with the relevant social work 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.
It is important to appreciate that FGCs are not an emergency response. They are a planned process and the recommendation for a FGC should be made following an assessment of the case. The professionals involved should be clear about the desired outcomes and what options are not acceptable. The expected timescale for the process is 6 - 8 weeks from referral to the meeting.
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. The FGC does not remove or replace the need for Child Protection Conferences.
The agreed Family Plan drawn up at the FGC is shared at the next multi-agency meeting / forum (e.g. CIN, RCPC, LAC review, Court arena). Social workers should encourage families to bring their plan to the meetings as part of the empowerment process.
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.
Where the FGC process uncovers new information that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm the FGC Practitioner must inform the child's social worker immediately.
Referral for a FGC will require:
Initial discussions are held between the referrer, and the FGC team coordinator to ensure the appropriateness of the referral.
The FGC team coordinator or a FGC Practitioner will then arrange to meet with the referrer to discuss the referral in detail and clarify any new information relating to the family's circumstances and establish what information has been shared to date. This meeting will be used to discuss detail of the process 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 between both professionals, clarification of roles and responsibilities, how the plan will be validated. This discussion will also clarify the details of the "bottom line".
If proceedings have been issued, the referrer must inform the child's Legal Guardian that they are requesting a FGC so that they are aware and have accurate information about what a FGC is.
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 and the FGC process will start.
FGCs services will always be coordinated independently from the service or team which has worries 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 service 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 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 network for the child Discussion will take place with the family about who needs to be present. Legal Guardians are not automatically invited to the FGC as the invitation list is decided by the family.
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 as well as determining whether they would like a supporter or advocate in the meeting. If the child / young person requires an advocate then the coordinator 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 Person who Poses a Risk (PPR), 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 audio or visual 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 professionals to ensure family members have appropriate information about:
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.
It is paramount that the Social Worker attends the conference. Professionals will not need to provide a written report but will be expected to provide a verbal contribution during this stage of the Family Group Conference, detailing the strengths of the family, the worries and what has triggered the need for the FGC service, supportive 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:
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 worries 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 produces 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 FGC Practitioner will rejoin 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 about resource implications will have taken place prior to the FGC so decisions can be made.
It is expected that the family plan is accepted by the referrer 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 professionals that may have been requested by the family to provide services.
The FGC Practitioner distributes the family plan, unless the family wants to do this themselves, to all relevant professionals 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 FGC 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 usually be agreed at the conference depending on the nature of the topics covered in the family plan and any timescales/deadlines to be met. The review will be convened by the FGC Practitioner and the referrer will be expected to attend. The date and time for this will be written into the family plan if agreed at the initial conference and if not will be arranged with family at a later date.
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 if 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 the referrer and FGC Practitioner. It is beneficial for the referrer to meet with the FGC Practitioner prior to the review meeting to give an update of the current situation and if there have been any significant changes since the initial meeting. If the initial plan cannot work it may be that a review meeting is not necessary but a second referral to FGC to discuss new worries is needed. 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 Liquid Logic, 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 Liquid Logic, 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 Legal Guardians and the court.
The FGC Practitioner will during the process:
FGC Practitioners do NOT minute FGC's, or keep detailed records of conversations of meetings with family members.
The FGC service will record: