Family Group Conference Service

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:

  • Safeguarding children likely to suffer harm;
  • Permanence planning when a child cannot live at home or leaves care;
  • Contact arrangements;
  • Youth offending, anti-social behaviour and truanting.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated locally in June 2019. It should be re-read in it's entirety.

1. What is a Family Group Conference?

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.

2. Key Elements of Family Group Conferences

  • The FGC is a major decision making forum for the child, notwithstanding any legal or statutory requirements;
  • The FGC is accessible to as wide a network of family members as possible. 'Family' is defined broadly to include; the child, parents, extended family and significant others - including friends, neighbours, community support networks who may know the child but are not blood relations;
  • An independent co-ordinator facilitates the involvement of the child, family network and any professionals in the FGC process;
  • Pre-meeting preparation is KEY to the success of the process and will make up most of the co-ordinators' time;
  • Professionals provide clear, accessible and relevant information to the family about what their plan needs to achieve, resources available and any "bottom lines";
  • The family should always have private discussion time at the FGC to produce their plan for the care and protection of the child/ren;
  • The family's plan should always be accepted unless it places a child at risk of significant harm or does not meet legal requirements. It should be resourced within reasonable limits;
  • The FGC plan is monitored and reviewed.

3. Things to Think of Before a Referral to the Family Group Conference Service

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:

  • To support a swift return home to family or family friends of a looked after child;
  • A child who is open to Rotherham social care with a case status of Child Protection or Child in Need, where possible the referral should be made prior to an initial child protection conference;
  • For a child who is at risk of entering the looked after system, via the Public Law Outline Panel.

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:

  • Where a family has a history of intergenerational Sexual Abuse;
  • Where there is an on-going Section 47 Child Protection Enquiry;
  • Where there is high risk of violence at the conference;
  • Where there are plans to begin or is a current Parenting or Parenting Assessment Manual (PAM) assessment.

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.

4. How Does a Family Group Conference Plan Work with Child Protection Planning?

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.

5. The Referral Procedure

Referral for a FGC will require:

  • Someone with Parental Responsibility must agree to the referral and to the sharing of information. Parental responsibility could be held by the birth parents or the local authority (under a court order);
  • The views of a Fraser Guidelines (Gillick Competent) child will need to be considered;
  • The existence of a network of Connected Persons. (This may include relatives, significant family, friends or community members). The network may not be immediately apparent and this should not prevent a referral being made;
  • The referrer to add only key Connected Persons on the referral form (LCS will pull all relationships through and it is the responsibility of the referrer to delete as appropriate);
  • The need for a decision or a plan to be made to address specific worries identified;
  • Details on the referral of whether a Family Network Meeting has been held; if so the outcomes of this meeting and any plan created by the family.

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:

  • That there is a plan or decision to be made at this time and the referring agency is supporting the family to come together to do this;
  • That the social worker and social care team manager is committed to the FGC process and that the allocated social worker will attend and input at the meeting; the social worker must be able to stay for the whole of the conference to approve the plan;
  • Written consent to hold the FGC has been obtained from the person with parental responsibility and the young person sufficiently capable of providing consent (Fraser Guidelines). No contact with any other family members can occur until this consent has been obtained.

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.

6. The Family Group Conference Practitioner

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 child welfare and/or protection issues which need to be considered at the FGC. This includes identifying any "bottom line" about what is and what is not acceptable in terms of a plan for the child from the agency's perspective;
  • Services that could support the child or family.
The FGC Practitioner negotiates the date, time and venue for the conference with the family and arrangements are made where possible to facilitate their attendance without them needing to take time off work etc. This may mean that conferences take place at weekends or in the evening. The FGC Practitioner sends out invitations and makes the necessary practical arrangements. The conference must take place in the family's first language, if that is their preference, with interpreters for others as needed.

7.What to Expect at a Family Group Conference

The Family Group Conference is held with the following three stages:

Stage 1: Information Giving

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:

  • Current worries and the reason for the conference rather than a detailed history;
  • Experience of the family's strengths and successes as well as the worries;
  • Clarity about what needs to change for the child and within what timescales;
  • Information about what resources could be available to support the family plan, any limitations on resources (including resources of time), timescales for accessing resources and any procedures that need to be followed to obtain resources;
  • Any child welfare concerns that will affect what can be agreed in the plan such as the child not having contact with a particular person or a Person who Poses a Risk (PPR);
  • What action will be taken if the family cannot make a plan or the plan is not agreed or professional worries and reason for the referral to FGC service are not addressed in the plan. This could vary from 'remaining worried' to seeking legal advice about whether an application to court for a legal order is needed.

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:

  • Information must be up to date but not new, there should be no 'surprises' for the family members;
  • Statements should be specific such as "Jack has been absent from school for 13 sessions in the last term" not "Jack has missed school a lot";
  • Avoid jargon, with explanations of any professional terms;
  • Keep explanations of the worries centred on the needs of the child rather than on what it is felt the adults should do;
  • Focus on the problem rather than anticipating solutions, for example, "How can the family ensure that Darren is taken to school every day" rather than "Mum needs to get Darren to school more often";
  • Questions are not intended to be assessment related, but rather focusing on a plan that the family can create.

The child/young person and family members may also provide information via an advocate or other supporter, ask for clarification or ask questions.

Stage 2: Private Family Time

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.

Stage 3: Plan and Agreement

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.

Validation/presentation of the Plan

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.

Distribution of the Plan

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:

  • Name of the child(ren) who were the subjects of the FGC;
  • Date and venue of the FGC;
  • List of everyone who attended and who was invited but unable to attend - making clear who each person is and their connection to the child;
  • The questions the family were asked to address and the details of the plan addressing these questions;
  • Names and contact details of those who have agreed to monitor the plan;
  • Date of the Review FGC.

8. Implementation of the Plan

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.

9. Review of the Plan

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.

10. Ending of Involvement

The FGC services involvement will end once the initial and review FGC's have taken place.

Involvement will also end if:

  • The referral has been assessed as inappropriate;
  • The family withdraw or no longer provide consent for the FGC to proceed;
  • A decision was made that it was inappropriate to proceed i.e. if safety issues were too great.

11. Recording and Information Sharing

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:

  • Keep a copy of the referral form;
  • Keep copies of feedback forms and ratings sheets for completion with the relevant participants as necessary;
  • Retain record of:
    • Name and contact details of family members;
    • A copy of the family plan (when completed);
    • Details of anyone who was excluded from the meeting by the coordinator and the reasons for the exclusion;
    • Details of any child protection and health and safety issues which emerged during the process.
  • This documentation must be kept in a secure, locked location. Information stored on a computer must be password protected and deleted after last follow up;
  • Families will be informed about what information is kept and by whom.

FGC Practitioners do NOT minute FGC's, or keep detailed records of conversations of meetings with family members.

The FGC service will record:

  • The date the FGC referral was made;
  • The name and team of the referrer;
  • The name of the Coordinator;
  • The date of the FGC and Review FGC;
  • The Family Plan.

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