Policy and Guidance for Using Family Group Conferences in Children's Social Services
AMENDMENTThis chapter was updated in January 2022.
A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a process led by family members to plan and make decisions for a child who is at risk. It is a voluntary process that starts with the promise that all relevant family and friends are invited to take part, especially the child or young person, as long as it is safe to do so. Children and young people are normally involved in their own FGC, although sometimes with support from an advocate. FGCs are also used to plan for children returning from care to their family’s or friend’s network or to make plans of safety when children go missing from home or their foster placements. From April 2017 to March 2020, KCC is one of 7 Local Authorities in England that are using FGC as part of a ‘Lifelong Links’ trial. This is working with young people in care who have no plan to return to their family or be adopted, to identify a group of safe adults that can commit to offering lifelong support for the young person.
2. Using FGC to involve families in decision-making for their children at risk of becoming looked after
The Kent Social Connections Service is a part of the Kent County Council’s (KCC) commitment to inclusive, empowering partnership practice by professionals who work with families. As part of KCC’s Permanence Planning for children, it is the formal partnership that enables the professional systems to interact in an equal and respectful way with informal family and community systems. In Kent, a Family Group Conference or FGC is offered to all families when the wellbeing of their child(ren) is of such serious concern that an alternative placement to the child(ren)’s current placement is being considered. Further information about the FGC model can be found on the Family Rights Group website www.frg.org.uk.
The philosophy underpinning Family Group Conferencing is that:
- Children and young people are paramount to the FGC process;
- The family network is central to the FGC process;
- FGC is family led decision making in partnership with formal systems;
- FGC is a safe, respectful and effective environment for all participants;
- Private family time is a vital element to FGC process;
- Families have the right to be involved in decisions that affect their children and that as long as the plan is safe for the child(ren) it should be fully resourced.
3. When should I make a referral?
In Kent, it is mandatory for ALL families where a child(ren) has been assessed by their Social Worker as being likely to come into the Public Care System, to be given the chance to plan for the child(ren) by means of a Family Group Conference. It is not obligatory for the family to have a FGC but they must be given the opportunity to consider having one, having first discussed the merits of doing so with a FGC Coordinator. It is not appropriate for the Social Worker to make this decision on behalf of the family. The Social Worker must advise the family that at this stage all families are offered the opportunity to have a FGC, that they are not obliged to have one, but tell them that an FGC Coordinator will advise them. The role of the Social Worker is to confirm with their supervisor that the family meets the criteria for a referral to the Social Connections Service. Once the referral is received, the coordinator will meet with the Social Worker and make a minimum of 3 attempts to speak to those with parental responsibility, in order for them to make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to proceed with a Family Group Conference.
You might also consider making a referral to comply with Public Law Outline (PLO) Guidance. Mandatory referral criteria for CSWT teams remains ‘all children assessed as likely to come into the Public Care System’, or as part of the Family Drugs and Alcohol programme.
The impact of the PLO has been that referrals for children on the threshold of court proceedings are being referred earlier in the process. However, should a referral be made at LBP stage then consideration needs to be given to allowing sufficient time for an FGC to be convened and the plan to be implemented before application to court.
The PLO flowchart details various points at which referral to FGC can be made. It is important that a family which declines the opportunity of an FGC at an earlier stage in the process is not denied opportunity at later stages.
4. How do I make a referral?
The referring Social Worker, (having had agreement from their supervisor that the referral criteria is met), completes the ‘FGC Referral Form Part 1’ on Liberi. The Social Worker then sends the referral to the FGC team tray using the ‘send for authorisation button’. Do not send to SW Team Manager as with other forms, as this will not result in a referral being made. Please note that this may be subject to change once the FGC Pathway becomes available on Liberi.
It is the Social Worker’s responsibility to gain permission from family members with PR to share information with those attending the FGC and record that they have done so.
5. What happens next?
The referral is allocated to a Coordinator who will contact the Social Worker to arrange an Allocations Meeting within 15 days to begin the Signs of Safety mapping exercise and start safety planning. Following this meeting the Co-ordinator will start contacting family members beginning with those with PR or the young person themselves if they are assessed as being mature enough to do so. The Coordinator will:
- Inform all participants (family and professional) about the FGC Process and gain informed consent from the young person/family members with PR to go ahead. The Co-ordinator will visit all key family members in person;
- Gain clear understanding from the referrer as to the reasons for the FGC and establish common understanding between the young person, their family and Social Worker. This will be done by using the Signs of Safety mapping;
- Assist the family in identifying all significant people to invite to FGC. Please note that this goes beyond birth family and can include step family, extended family, friends and other significant relationships such as neighbours and church groups;
- Help all participants recognise the strengths and concerns within the family situation and assist the family to be able to vocalise what they might want from FGC. This may include the offer of an advocate for any family member that may not feel able to participate themselves or gaining views by phone, video or in written form from family members who are not able to attend in person;
- Work with the family to identify all required resources, both within the family network and what might be offered by service providers, to assist their family situation and to be clear what resources are not available or not appropriate in providing a safe plan for the child(ren);
- Provide and prepare, if required, an advocate for a child, young person or vulnerable adult to enable that person to contribute fully to FGC process;
- Work with all participants to prepare a safety plan for the FGC. The coordinator is responsible for the safety of all participants at FGC;
- If required, arrange a Pre-FGC meeting to discuss safety planning, resources and any non-negotiable restrictions on family plan;
- Discuss and arrange the FGC meeting, including time, venue, transport, if required, childcare, if required, refreshments, how each participant will contribute to FGC. The coordinator has the final say in any excluding any participants from attending the FGC.
This Preparation Stage takes about 30 working days and is vital to the positive outcome of the FGC meeting. Some FGCs will take longer to get to FGC, for e.g. waiting on the availability of a key family member or the completion of an assessment. Where appropriate family members will be encouraged to add to the Signs of Safety Mapping and this will be shared with the Social Worker. This enables all participants to be aware of the concerns ahead of the FGC meeting and start the planning process. This can take extra time but family led decision-making can only succeed if families are given the right information on which to make informed decisions.
6. What does the social worker do during the preparation stage?
The Social Worker will:
- Attend an Allocations meeting within 10 days of the referral being allocated to start the Signs of Safety mapping and safety planning for the FGC;
- Retain case responsibility for the child(ren);
- Continue their existing role with the child(ren) and keep the Coordinator posted of any significant developments e.g. child becomes looked after, especially if there are safety implications e.g. violent family member is released from custody;
- Be open with the family as to why the referral has been made to FGC, i.e. that concerns are so serious that the family might lose care of their children;
- Present openly all of the issues that need to be addressed in the family plan and outline any non-negotiable points of safety;
- Gain permission from the family members with PR to share information with other professionals and the wider family network;
- Jointly work with the Coordinator to secure a safety plan that will protect all participants at FGC;
- Respond in a timely manner to request from Coordinator for information, dates for Pre-FGC meeting if returned and FGC meeting itself;
- If required to, attend Pre-FGC meeting, with supervisor if necessary. Contribute to safety plan for the FGC.
7. Who does what at FGC?
It is the Co-ordinator’s responsibility to oversee a safe and effective meeting consisting of three stages; Information Giving Stage, Private Family Time and Negotiating and Agreeing the Plan.
The FGC Co-ordinator will:
At the Information Giving Stage:
- Set the context of the meeting (why we are here) and establish the format of the meeting, housekeeping and ground rules;
- Facilitate the sharing of all relevant information in a jargon free accessible manner;
- Ensure that all participants but especially the child/young person is comfortable and that his/her voice is ‘heard’ at all times;
- Intervenes and re-focuses the meeting where necessary;
- Maintains safety at the meeting, even if this requires adjourning or stopping the meeting completely;
- Prepares the family for private family time.
During Private Family Time:
- Remain available for the family but not within the room;
- Only interfere in Private Family Time if the family asks for further information or there is some concern about the safety of one or more participants;
- Offer the Social worker/other professionals the opportunity to give feedback on their experience of Information Giving stage.
At the point of negotiating and agreeing the plan:
- Assist the family to present their plan, clarifying any ambiguous points and identifying any unmet needs of the child young person that might compromise their safety;
- Confirms consensus within the family for the plan;
- Helps provide a conducive environment for Social Worker to consider the plan e.g. provide the opportunity for Social Worker to discuss plan with supervisor;
- Check availability of resources;
- Identify who will monitor the plan;
- Establish follow-up arrangements.
8. What does the social worker do at FGC?
At the information giving stage:
- Provide, clear, jargon free, accessible information that the family will understand;
- Be clear about what the family’s strengths are as well as the concerns for the child(ren) including any non-negotiable points of safety for the child(ren);
- Answer family member’s questions in an open and honest manner.
During Private Family Time:
- The Social worker does not take part in Private Family Time, unless the family ask for further information so they still need to remain available.
At the point of negotiating and agreeing the plan:
- Agree to implement the plan, unless it places the child(ren) at risk. Any decisions not agreed with must be made clear to the family and the reasons for not agreeing the plan must be shared with the family;
- Agree to resource the plan and detail any restrictions/time delays;
- Agree that family plans informs all other plans that child(ren) are subject to.
9. What happens after the FGC?
The Co-ordinator will:
- Circulate the plan as agreed at FGC;
- Record the plan on Liberi;
- Accept feedback / debrief participants as necessary;
- Close referral / withdraw from working with family until next FGC meeting is required when the process starts again.
The Social Worker will:
- Implement the plan as agreed at FGC;
- Resource the plan;
- Adopt the plan as the agency plan and use it to inform all other planning systems that the child(ren) is subject to e.g. CP;
- Refer family back to FGC should any key element of the plan not be implemented.
Where problems or disagreements about practice arise, all professionals should participate in seeking resolutions at the earliest stage. Should problems persist please consult the Social Connections County Manager. Service users or other professionals will be made aware of KCC Complaints procedure should they wish to make a formal complaint.