Family Group Conference
This chapter was updated in September 2021 to add a new Section 7, Mediation. The Section describes the role and purpose of mediation and the mediator. The mediation can be a stand-alone service delivered by a trained team member, or as a Pre-Family Group Conference initiative.
Wirral has a fully accredited team of Family Group Co-ordinators who adhere to the Family Group Conference Practice Standards and work to the pure Family Group Conferencing Model. Family Group Conferences enable children who are at risk of becoming Looked After to remain with their families. They are also used in situations where there are concerns about possible harm to a child / young person. Family Group Conferences may also be used to rehabilitate children back to their family's care. All Family Group Conferences will consist of Information Giving Time, Private Family Time and Agreeing the Plan. The Family Group Conference team also provide Mediation (see Section 7, Mediation).
2. Aim of a Family Group Conference
The aim of a Family Group Conference is to ensure that a child/ young person will live in a safe situation and be allowed to develop as an individual by:
- Bringing together extended members of a family to discuss the issues raised and empower them to meet their challenges;
- The family having time to think, develop solutions to their current problems and plan in private;
- Encouraging the child/ young person to take part in the decisions that directly affect them;
- Working in partnership with families and agencies by changing the balance of power;
- The family choosing solutions and options which fit with their cultural lifestyle;
- Producing a plan of action that has been developed by and will be followed by the family.
There is a set of agreed principles, which underpin the Family Group Conference Process. The Children Act 1989 strongly reflects these principles and provides the drive for using these meetings in practice. These principles are:
- The child's interests are paramount and his / her views will be sought in ways appropriate to their age and understanding;
- Families have information central to planning decisions that professionals cannot easily access and are able to make good decisions about their children given the opportunity and information to do so;
- Families' ability to care for their children will be facilitated by family decision making allowing them to overcome problems by the involvement of friends and wider family;
- Families provide identity, roots and continuity enabling them to make plans which are sensitive to and reflective of their culture;
- Professionals need to work in partnership with the family and allow them to share some of their power.
4. Key Elements of a Family Group Conference
- The term 'family' in the context of a Family Group Conference, refers to both blood relatives and to non-related significant adults such as friends or neighbours;
- The role of the Co-ordinator is vital in negotiating attendance of a Family Group Conference and in informing all participants about the process involved. This role should be separate from the other professional involvement within the family;
- Professionals should facilitate family members attendance at a Family Group Conference through financial or practical assistance with travel, the choice of venue, the availability of interpreters, etc;
- A child/ young person, if they want to attend should be helped to identify a supporter or advocate as appropriate;
- The role of the professional is to share their information and knowledge with the family. It is not to present a plan and seek family agreement to this. The family must be the primary planning group;
- The family must always have private decision making and planning time, unless they specifically request a particular professional to be present;
- The family's plans should be agreed and the resources negotiated by the agencies and professionals involved unless the plan is thought to place a child at risk of Significant Harm. In such circumstances the professionals should explain how and of what the child would be at risk;
- The Family Group Co-ordinator has a duty to identify and address issues of race, gender and culture and respond positively to any particular needs a family may identify. The Family Group Conference will be held in the first language of the family.
5. The Family Group Conference Practice Standards
The Family Group Conference Co-ordinator is independent of any agency involved with the family, for example in terms of family support or child protection case management.
The Family Group Conference should respect the family's consent to proceed. Participation in a Family Group Conference is a voluntary process for the child, young person, or vulnerable adult and the family members involved. How the process is managed should respect the rights of family members to consent or not.
The Family Group Conference should be family led and include 'private time' for the family to make a plan in response to concerns. Private time for the family is an essential part of the Family Group Conference process.
The central focus should be on the child or adult who is the subject of the Family Group Conference. They should be offered support in their involvement including be offered an advocate. Children, young people and vulnerable adults are at the centre of the decision making process and have the right for their voices to be heard and to be supported in achieving this.
The Family Group Conference service should ensure that the family has all the necessary resources to help them to fully participate in the meeting, including adequate preparation time, relevant information, and a safe and appropriate environment to make its plan.
The Family Group Conference should respect the family's privacy and right to confidentiality (unless there is new disclosure that a child or adult is at significant risk).
The Family Group Conference should recognise that each family is unique and should be sensitive to the family's culture taking account of ethnicity, language and religion. The process of the Family Group Conference should reflect and respect the culture and specific needs and circumstances of the family and be driven by them.
6. Family Group Conference Procedure
If after completing the single assessment the Social Worker feels that a Family Group Conference is required they should contact the Family Group Conference Team for an informal discussion or complete a referral, contained within LiquidLogic to request a service.
Once the Family Group Conference Manager receives the referral form from the Social Worker they will decide if it meets the criteria for a service.
Once the referral is agreed the Family Group Conference Manager will allocate a Family Group Co-ordinator to work with the family and email the referrer to inform them of the outcome
The allocated Family Group Co-ordinator will arrange a consultation meeting with the Social Worker. The meeting will look to clarify the preparation time required for the meeting with the family, the date and time of meeting (which has to be within 6 weeks) and the expectations of all parties involved.
The Agenda for the meeting will be prepared by the FGC Coordinator with input from family members. It will be agreed by the referrer who is either a Social Worker or Family Worker.
The Family Group Co-ordinator will contact the main carer and the extended family members they wish to attend the meeting and confirm the time, date and venue of the meeting.Once the plan has been agreed by the Social Worker/Referrer/Family Worker and their Manager, the family will work together to activate the plan. A review of the plan will be done within six weeks if deemed necessary by the family or Local Authority.
Mediation is a process for people in conflict which includes 2 or more participants, and one or 2 mediators. The trained, impartial mediator helps people in conflict to communicate with one another, understand each other, explore options for mutual gains and if possible reach agreements that satisfy the participant’s needs. The emphasis will be on helping the parties to focus on the future and not dwell on the past events.
A mediator does not provide legal advice or recommend any form of legal agreements. Instead, the mediator helps people reach their own decisions which may include agreements, may rebuild their relationship, and if possible find lasting solutions to their disputes.
Mediation is a process that lets people speak for themselves and make their own decisions. Examples of here mediation has been successful within the FGC arena, is with regard to contact arrangements with children and communication between family members.
The mediation can be a stand -alone service delivered by a trained team member, or as a Pre- Family Group Conference initiative. This is to enable family members who have previously been in conflict to come together within the FGC process to talk and plan together to prioritise the children.
Referrers to this service will need to highlight on the FGC referral form that they require Mediation.
Note: During Covid restrictions, many Family Group Conferences and Mediations have been taking place virtually over Microsoft Teams or telephone, instead of face-to-face. Feedback has so far been positive and families have been engaging well.