When children’s services become involved with their child, young parents can sometimes feel that social workers are making all the decisions and that they and their families are not really being given much say.
To make it easier for families to be involved in making plans for their child, children’s services can offer families a family group conference (FGC). This is a planning meeting led by the family that is arranged by an independent person. FGCs are also sometimes called family group meetings.
The information on this page will tell you more about FGCs, when they can be used and how they can help you and your family to be more involved in making plans to keep your child safely cared for within their family.
What does an FGC involve?
An FGC brings different family members together to make a plan for the child that children’s services are worried about.
The process starts with a request (known as a ‘referral') for an FGC. This is likely to be made by a social worker but is sometimes made by other people too (e.g. a youth worker, a health visitor, a probation worker). The referral should include details about what problems the social worker thinks the family plan should try to tackle.
The FGC is arranged by an independent coordinator who meets everyone first to prepare for the family group conference. They should arrange first to meet with yourself (and the child’s other parent). They will then discuss with you who else in the family or your network (e.g. a helpful neighbour or you’re a trust friend) should be invited. They will then meet with them. The aim is to draw upon the child’s network to maximise the support that can be offered. Your child should also participate if they are old enough. The venue, time of day, primary language spoken and refreshments should all be determined by yourself and the family rather than social workers.
Social workers and other professionals only attend part of the family group conference and the family are also given time in private to draw up their plan. This ‘family plan’ should set out how the problems that social workers (or other professionals) have described can be tackled.
This diagram shows the different stages of the FGC conference process.
The family group conference meeting itself has three stages. You can read more about each stage of the meeting by clicking on the coloured boxes below. The FAQs at the end of this page will then give answers to some of the questions that young parents most often have about FGCs.
- Stage One – Information giving
- Stage Two – Private family time
- Stage Three – Plan presented and agreed
Stage One – Information giving
At the start of the family group conference, the social worker should explain their worries about your child and what will happen if the family cannot agree a plan. It is also an opportunity for any relevant family concerns to be set out. The social worker should explain if there is anything that must be in the plan or anything that cannot be in the plan. They should also set out what support may be available. There may be other practitioners at this information giving stage to explain in more detail what help could be provided (for example, access to drug support services). The social worker (and any other professional present) then leave.
Stage Two – Private family time
The family are given time in private to draw up their plan. Once the family have made a plan they will call the social worker(s) back into the meeting and move on to Stage Three. The coordinator will ask if everyone has agreed the plan. If everyone hasn't agreed, you may be given more private family time to work things through or a chance to meet again.
Stage Three – Plan presented and agreed
The coordinator will then ask the family to explain their plan. They may also ask the family questions about some of the details of the plan.
The social worker who requested the FGC will then be asked whether they agree the plan. The plan should be agreed so long as it is legal, safe and addresses the concerns.
The social worker should also explain what help children’s services will provide to the family to help with the plan.
Once the plan is agreed the coordinator will ask the family if they would like a review meeting. These normally happen about 3 months after the original FGC but the timing should be agreed with the family.
Frequently asked questions about family group conferences
What are the benefits of an FGC?An FGC:
- Is a good way of getting your wider family and friends involved in keeping your child safe and well cared for and it is led by you and your family
- Can look at what support your family and friends could offer you to help you safely care for your child
- Can look at who else could care for your child if you are not able to
- Is something that you can ask the social worker to arrange (you don’t have a right to an FGC but you can ask the social worker whether they will agree to refer you for one)
- Even if your case still ends up in court, an FGC will help you to present your family’s views to the court.
When can an FGC take place?Government guidance says that before children’s services start any legal action (for example, before they start care proceedings), they should see if your child can be safely cared for by a family member or by a friend.
However, an FGC can be used very early on and before things reach a crisis point.
For example, this could be:
- When coming up with a child in need plan to support your child in the family
- When social workers are carrying out child protection enquiries
- As one of the things that should happen as part of a child protection plan.
Even if the social worker doesn’t suggest that an FGC takes place, you can ask them to refer you for an FGC so that you and your family have the chance to come up with a safe plan for your child.
Who can come to an FGC?It is up to the child’s parents and wider family network (and the child if they are old enough) to decide who should be invited to an FGC.
The independent coordinator who arranges the FGC will discuss with you who should be invited. This will include which of the professionals who know your child should be invited to the information giving part of the meeting.
As well as other family members, you might want to invite friends, neighbours and community figures who know your child, if their involvement is likely to help to make a plan (and if the family want them there).
If there is a disagreement within your family about who to invite then the coordinator will try to help you all resolve this. They will encourage your family to think about what might happen if someone is (or isn’t) invited. However, final decisions about who should be invited rest with the parents, and anyone else with parental responsibility for the child (unless there are concerns that the person who you have asked to be invited will pose a risk to a child or to someone else at the meeting).
When and where will the FGC take place?The coordinator will help your family decide where and when to hold the FGC.
The coordinator will try and make sure that the meeting takes place at a time and a place that works for everyone and in a way that respects your family’s traditions and culture.
The aim is to make sure your family are as comfortable with the arrangements as possible, and that it feels like their meeting.
What if I don’t want to have an FGC, or I don’t want to go to one?You don’t have to be at or get involved in an FGC. It should always be voluntary.
However, if social workers have serious concerns about your child’s safety and are considering starting care proceedings, then you should think carefully about what may happen if you refuse to go to an FGC.
For example, will you miss a good opportunity for you and your family to take the lead in developing a safe plan for your child?
But if you’re worried about taking part in (or preparing for) an FGC for a particular reason (for example, because of family arguments or worries about domestic violence) then it’s very important that you speak with your child’s social worker or the FGC coordinator about this. You can also call Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 (open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm, excluding bank holidays).
Will my child be involved in the FGC?The FGC coordinator will also talk to you and your child about how they may be involved in the FGC.
Your child’s participation will depend on your child’s age and understanding.
The FGC coordinator may arrange for an independent advocate to help the child express their views clearly.
Can the plan be changed in the future?The review is a chance for the family and professionals to meet together again to look at the plan and make sure it is working.
Reviews give families the chance to make changes to any parts of the plan that aren’t working well or need adjusting/developing to reflect changes in circumstances. The timing of the review will be agreed at the end of the original FGC with the help of the coordinator.
For even more information about family group conferences you can:
- Watch our helpful short films which use the fictional story of Carl and Susan to bring the family group conference process to life
- Take a look at Advice Sheet 3 on Family Rights Group's website which is all about FGCs. You can ask someone you trust to help you work through the advice sheet
- Or call Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm, excluding Bank Holidays) if you have questions or need further help and information about FGCs.