A family group conference is a process led by family members to plan and make decisions for a child who is at risk. Children and young people are normally involved in their own family group conference, although often with support from an advocate. It is a voluntary process and families cannot be forced to have a family group conference.
Families, including extended family members are assisted by an independent family group conference coordinator to prepare for the meeting. At the first part of the meeting, social workers and other professionals set out their concerns and what support could be made available. In the second part of the meeting family members then meet on their own to make a plan for the child. The family should be supported to carry out the plan, unless it is not safe. Read more about the family group conference process.
Three quarters of local authorities In England and Wales currently run or commission family group conferences for children in their area or are planning to do so. However, only a small minority of councils routinely offer families a family group conference before a young child is taken into care.
Lifelong Links is a new approach which draws upon a combination of a family finding model, which originated in the United States and the family group conference model, which originated in New Zealand. Lifelong Links aims to identify and engage relatives and other supportive adults connected to a child in care, who are willing to make a life-long commitment to that child. Research shows that the continuity and permanence of these familial relationships will offer the child ongoing emotional and practical support, help provide an explanation of historical events, and reinforce the child's identity and sense of belonging.
Family Rights Group is leading a 3 years trial of Lifelong Links initially in seven local authorities in England from April 2017. Our objective is also to raise funds to simultaneously trial Lifelong Links in Scotland.
The family group conference approach originated in New Zealand. Family group conferences are now used in over 20 countries in the world. We are key players in the European Family Group Conference Network.
Family Rights Group led the introduction of family group conferences in England and Wales, and runs the National Family Group Conference Network.
Family group conferences can be used in any serious situation where a plan and decision needs to be made about a vulnerable adult or child. In the United Kingdom family group conferences are mainly used in child welfare, particularly when a child is at risk of going into care, although some local areas are using the approach to prevent school exclusions, tackle anti-social behaviour, address youth offending and in planning for vulnerable adults.
Family group conference are effective in making safe plans for children, enabling many to stay within their family network as an alternative to going into care and are cost effective.
How can I find out contact details about my local family group conference?
The FGC projects section gives contact details of local family group conference projects. If your local authority does not have a family group conference project and you think it would really help your child’s situation, then you could ask them to spot purchase a family group conference.
What does Family Rights Group offer existing family group conference projects or local authorities wanting to set up a service?
We run the national Family Group Conference network, which offers regular opportunities for networking, expert workshops, newsletters, a practitioner discussion board and more. We have led on the development of family group conference standards, including family group conference principles, a toolkit for setting up family group conference services and practice guides including one on family group conferences and the courts. We have worked with the FGC Network to trial an accreditation scheme for family group conference services – and will be rolling out the scheme across England and Wales from Summer 2013.
We run an extensive training and events programme for family group conference co-ordinators and projects, and have pioneered an accredited post graduate certificate for co-ordinators with the University of Chester.