Family Group Conferences

1. Introduction

A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a structured decision making and planning process whereby the wider family network makes decisions and plans for children and young people who have been identified by the family or by service providers as being in need of a plan that will safeguard and promote their welfare. The family has the responsibility to develop a plan that will facilitate the safe care and protection of a child or young person which will be done in 'Private Time', that is, on their own and without professionals present.

FGC's are intended as a respectful and empowering process in which parents, children and members of the wider family are given clear information about the agency's concerns and are asked to produce a plan addressing those concerns by answering specific questions.

The FGC allows families to provide their own solutions to the difficulties they are facing and in practice it aims to provide a practical approach to meaningful collaboration between families and professionals.

2. Matters of Consent

FGC is a voluntary process and a referral should be made on agreement with the parent/carer of the child/young person who has Parental Responsibility, (PR).

If the local authority has or shares PR (under a court order) and the wider family wishes to go ahead with an FGC but the parents do not agree, the local authority can give consent to the FGC, providing it is in the child's best interests to do so. However this should be a last resort as it is always preferable to work in partnership with those with PR. If the parent/carer or young person refuses, a member of the FGC team will be happy to meet with them to explain the process prior to the referral.

If the child is able to consent for themselves and is seen to be Gillick /Fraser competent the FGC can also go ahead. (Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines refer to a legal case which looked specifically at whether doctors should be able to give contraceptive advice or treatment to under 16-year-olds without parental consent. But since then, they have been more widely used to help assess whether a child has the maturity to make their own decisions and to understand the implications of those decisions, NSPCC, 2012).

3. When to Make a Referral to Family Group Conference

As soon as there are concerns about a child's welfare, and Children's Services are involved, consideration should be given to referring the family for an FGC, and this should be kept under review throughout the involvement of Children's Services with the child. Priority will be given when the following circumstances apply:

  • A child or young person has been Accommodated;
  • When consideration is being given to Care Proceedings and the child or young person is on the threshold of care;
  • The child or young person is subject to a Child Protection Plan.

A referral would be considered inappropriate to proceed under the following circumstances:

  • Isolated asylum seeking children;
  • Where families have refused consent to share information;
  • Where there are current criminal investigations or a Child Protection Enquiry and the FGC may impact on evidence;
  • Where no safe adults have been identified within the family network; E.g. where domestic abuse is minimised.

The Public Law Outline (PLO) stresses that in presenting a Care Plan to the court in any application for a Care Order, the local authority will be required to demonstrate that it has considered family members and friends as potential carers at each stage of its decision making. The duty of the local authority is to consider an alternative family placement for the child and stresses that the capacity and willingness of the wider family are assessed to provide care for the child on a short or a longer-term basis. An FGC can be an important opportunity to engage friends and members of the wider family at an early stage of concerns about a child, either to support the parents or to provide care for the child, whether in the short or longer term (para 3.8).

The Children and Families Bill 2013 has introduced a time limit of 26 weeks when courts are considering whether a child should be taken into care and making sure more families have the opportunity to try mediation before applying to court. This has implications for families as they will have limited time to put forward family members to be assessed to care for their children. Referrals to FGC should be made sooner rather than later in order for a safe sustainable plan to be made to enable more children to remain in the care of their families.

4. Referral Procedure

The FGC referral form is available on request from: CPRTFamilyGroupConferences@newham.gov.uk, please email to request a referral form.

When completed, the referrer should email back to the above email address. A referral will not be accepted without a completed referral form.

Following receipt of the completed referral form, the FGC Manager/Co-ordinator will contact the referrer within 3 working days, offering date/time for a Referral Meeting.

A Referral Meeting is a face-to-face meeting between the FGC manager or Co-ordinator and the referrer. The purpose of the Referral Meeting is to:

  • Clarify the referral objective;
  • Obtain relevant child and family information;
  • Confirm the concerns and issues in the form of questions for the family to address at the FGC;
  • Identify strengths within the family for the family to build on;
  • Confirm the resources and services available to the family;
  • Confirm the bottom-line for the FGC.

Bottom-lines can be defined as the non-negotiable position of the Local Authority. For example, if the child cannot live with a particular person, this should be stated. The bottom line will also state what will happen should the family be unable to make a safe plan for the child or young person.

The FGC Manager / Coordinator will take notes during the referral meeting and formulate questions in conjunction with the referrer for the family members to answer to incorporate in their plan. The FGC Manager / Coordinator will prepare Referral Meeting Minutes and a Draft Report on behalf of the referrer.

The Minutes and Draft Report will be emailed to the Referrer usually within 3 working days. The referrer is to check and amend the draft report as necessary to ensure the details are accurate.

Once happy with the report, the Referrer will then share the report with the parents/carers and gain their signatures which agree for the report to be shared with those who will be attending the FGC. The report should also be signed by the Referrer and their Manager and then sent back to the FGC Service as soon as possible, preferably within 7 working days.

Once the signed report is received by the FGC service, a Coordinator will be allocated to facilitate the FGC who will make contact with the family on the same day as allocation.

5. The Family Group Conference

There are three distinct stages to the conference:

  1. Information giving

    The beginning of the conference is chaired by the Coordinator. S/he will make sure that everyone present understands the purpose and process of the FGC and agrees how the meeting will be conducted, including any ground rules agreed with the family. There is to be no new information to be presented to the family during this process as this would be detrimental to the success of the FGC.
    The referrer will then give information to the family about:
    • The reason for the conference;
    • Any child welfare concerns that will affect what can be agreed in the plan (e.g. that the child must not have contact witha particular person);
    • Information about resources and support they are able to provide; and
    • What action will be taken if the family cannot make a plan or the plan is not agrred. This should be presented to the family in clear, jargon free language.
    Other agencies will also be involved at this point to share any relevant issues and most especially to inform the conference about the type of support or services they could provide. The child and family members may also provide information, ask for clarification or ask questions. The child’s advocate will usually assist the child in presenting their views during this part of the meeting. The wishes and feelings of the child/ren are integral and a core part of the FGC.

  2. Private family time

    Once information has been shared with the family, the referrer, together with any other information givers and the co-coordinator, leave the family to have time to talk among themselves and devise or formulate a plan that addresses the concerns raised and to answer the questions that have been raised in the report. A fundamental principle of the FGC is that the family is the key decision making group and that they are enabled to do this through informed private discussion.

  3. Considering the plan

    When the family has completed their plan, the Co-ordinator and referrer will return and go through this with the family. Monitoring arrangements will also be discussed and agreed at this point, and form part of the Plan. It is essential that there is agreement between the family and agency representatives regarding what will happen if the Plan, or any parts of it, is not implemented, or if agreed resources are not provided.

The expectation is that the family’s plan will be agreed by the referrer provided the plan is safe for the children and there are no resources issues.

Where court proceedings are pending, the referrer will need to make it clear to the family that their agreement to the plans will ultimately be subject to the decision of the court.

The FGC Coordinator will distribute the Family Plan within 48 hours of the the FGC. The FGC Coordinator will also ensure the Family Plan is placed on the child’s Children’s Services file.

6. The Length of Time to Arrange a FGC

The optimal time for conducting an FGC is 4-6 weeks on average from the time that the Co-ordinator is allocated, although if the family network is sizeable, there are relatives abroad or some work is required to encourage family members to engage with the coordinator, they can take a little longer.

It may be possible for a meeting to be coordinated more quickly where the family, information-givers are readily available and the FGC service is able to accept and allocate the referral immediately. Sufficient time also needs to be allowed for the co-ordinator to contact all the family members and assist them in preparing for the meeting.

7. Family Plans and Child Protection Conferences

Where a Family Group Conference meeting is recommended at a Child Protection Conference, the Bottom Line is agreed in advance with the Child Protection Chair to ensure that the family are able to make a safe plan which Is not in conflict with the Child Protection Plan. The Family Plan is presented at the Review Child Protection Conference. It does not replace the Child Protection Plan, but runs in conjunction with the Child Protection Plan to address the identified concerns.

8. Contacting the FGC Team

If you wish to discuss a case prior to making a referral, please contact a member of the Family Group Conference Team via CPRT:familygroupconferences@newham.gov.uk.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs