Family Group Conferences/Family Network Meetings
1. About Family Group Conferences
Family Group Conferences/Family Network Meetings bring together extended family and friends networks to make decisions and plans about children & young people. In a FGC the family become the decision makers; a key part of the FGC is private family time. Professionals provide the information and expertise to inform the family plan and resources to support it. FGC's enable support of the parents in the care of their children, or where this is not possible the exploration of short or long term care within the extended family and friends network.
Research shows that families make plans that can be agreed by agencies and contribute well to the long term protection and care of children. Other research has shown that FGC's have helped to reduce the number of children subject to proceedings and to reduce the number of families that require ongoing social work support.
The aims of FGC's are:
- To help support families in the care of their children;
- To reduce the number of children and young people that need to be accommodated by the local authority by assisting families to look for solutions;
- To support the return of children from the care of the local authority to their families.
A FGC should be considered in situations where there is any risk that a child or young person may enter the care system. FGC's can be particularly helpful where:
- The extended family network is large and complicated - or is unknown to professionals;
- Where the family have not previously wanted to work with professionals or to give them contact with extended family;
- Where there are rifts or tensions within the extended family network that have made working together difficult.
The views of the child or young person are important in FGC's and their wishes, feelings and views can be supported by identifying someone the child trusts to advocate on their behalf.
2. Referral Criteria for Family Group Conferences
FGC's will be targeted to:
- Children subject to a Child Protection Plan and at the 2nd Review Child Protection Conference little progress has been achieved in reducing risk;
- Children who are subject to a CP plan and are at risk of being accommodated including those subject to the Public Law Outline process;
- Children Looked After where a FGC may aid a rehabilitation home.
It is expected that a decision to convene a FGC will be either part of an agreed CP plan, as a recommendation of a CLA review meeting or as a decision made within the PLO.
3. Approval and Referral Process for Family Group Conferences
Before a referral is made, an initial discussion should take place between the social worker, the parents/adults with Parental Responsibility, and the young person (where appropriate) and agreement to a referral should be obtained. Once a decision has been made that a FGC is needed, the referring social worker should, with agreement from their line manager, complete a PASP (Peterborough Access to Support Panel) request.
PASP may agree an 'in principle FGC' – this is where an FGC has been considered by panel as potentially being a useful resource. Once the 'in principle' agreement for a FGC has been given there is a 6week period within which the referral must be made, thereafter the worker would have to return to PASP to request a FGC.
When the request for a FGC has been approved the Social Worker will receive a referral form from ART (Access to Resources Team). The referral form should be completed as soon as possible and then forwarded to ART. An independent Co-ordinator will then be allocated who will be responsible for arranging the FGC and preparing the participants.
Every effort should be made to ensure that the family's preference in terms of ethnicity and language spoken is taken into consideration and that there are communication difficulties that may impede the conference process. The Independent Co-ordinator will work with the family to set up the meeting. The Co-ordinator will begin by making contact with the family to:
- Confirm the information provided on the referral form;
- Invite family members;
- Arrange a suitable venue at a time agreed by all parties which may be in the evening or at the weekend.
The Co-ordinator will contact the Social Worker to:
- Clarify their concerns;
- Help them prepare their presentation to the family in a form that is clear and accessible;
- To establish the absolute requirements for the child/YP safety, which must be contained in the family's eventual plan. It is essential to be specific so that family members are clear about the department's concerns and expectations;
- Establish what information has been shared to date.
The conference should take place within six weeks of the referral.
5. Family Group Conference Process
Information Giving Stage
At the start of the meeting the Co-ordinator chairs the information giving stage. Professionals in attendance present their report to the family in clear jargon-free language and will set out anything which could not be agreed to as part of the family plan. Any plan devised by a family must meet the minimum requirements set out by the social worker and other professionals for safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare and must not place the child at any risk.
The family are then given the opportunity to seek clarification regarding the social workers concerns. The family need to be well informed so that they can produce their plan.
Private Family Time
Once the family has enough information and is clear what it is being asked to do, the Co-ordinator and professionals leave the meeting, leaving the family to plan in private. During the private family time it is important that all family members have an opportunity to say what they think.
The social worker and Co-ordinator should be available during this time should the family need any clarification or additional information. It is an important principle in FGC's that the family have time to talk among themselves without any staff from agencies being present. The family should be able to meet for as long as they wish in private to come up with a plan.
Presenting and Agreeing the Family Plan
Once the family has agreed a plan, the Co-ordinator, social worker and key professionals meet again with the family to hear the plan and for the social worker to agree the plan. The Co-ordinator plays a supportive role in this process, helping to clarify and make the plan as detailed as possible. It is important that at this stage timescales and names of those responsible for any tasks should be clarified.
Once a conference has taken place, the Co-ordinator will produce a family plan report which will be distributed to the social worker, the family. The family plan report should include the following:
- Details of all the parties and family members contacted to participate in the meeting;
- The details of time, date and venue of the FGC;
- A list of everyone who attended the conference;
- A summary of the discussion items and the local authority concerns as presented by the social worker;
- A summary of the progress of the meeting and the agenda;
- The action/ family plan that has been agreed by the family and any timetable/ targets.
Monitoring and Reviewing the Plan
The social worker and family members remain responsible for the ongoing monitoring of the plan. The success of the plan will depend upon the family and professionals working together, and informing each other about the progress of the plan.
A Review FGC will be arranged after six months if the family feel that this would be beneficial. The aim of the Review FGC is to review whether the family plan has progressed or if any adjustments to the plan are required. This review will be organised and chaired by the responsible social worker.
The social worker will produce a summary report from the review conference detailing the progress on the agreed action from the original conference, the reasons for any action that has not been completed and any changes to the plan that is required by the family or social worker.
6. Roles and Responsibilities
The role of the Social Worker:
- Make referral for FGC with approval from PASP;
- Draw up a concise and jargon-free list of questions for the family to address at FGC;
- Attend FGC;
- Provide information and clarification about concerns at the beginning of the FGC. Also to provide information about resources which may be available;
- Give feedback at end of FGC about how far the plan can be agreed;
- Engage with family in carrying out and monitoring and reviewing the plan.
The role of the Co-ordinator:
- Help family map out their network;
- Make contact with all those in the network and invite them to attend FGC;
- Visit the main carers, all children and others who play significant a role in the children's lives and encourage their attendance at the FGC. Arbitrate regarding attendance of the individual members or organise alternative input for their views to FGC;
- Arrange a suitable date and independent venue for the FGC. Organise interpreters and advocates as required;
- Assist the social worker to draw up a clear list of questions for the family to address at the FGC;
- Organise refreshments for family during FGC;
- Chair the information giving stage of the FGC;
- Help the family clarify details of any plan proposed;
- Help the family feedback the plan to the Social Worker at end of the FGC;
- Write up the plan after the FGC and send to all those involved.
The role of the family:
- Map out the family network with the Co-ordinator;
- Focus on the task of making a plan for the children and put aside any potential family conflicts;
- Attend the FGC;
- Make the plan;
- Carry out the plan and be part of monitoring arrangements as required.