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3.6 Family Group Conference Procedure

Contents

  1. Introduction to Family Group Conferences
  2. Aims of the Service
  3. Key Elements of Family Group Conferences
  4. Referral Criteria for Family Group Conferences
  5. Referral Process for Family Group Conferences
  6. Preparation
  7. Family Group Conference Process

    Appendix 1: Guidance for Completion of FGC Forms

    Appendix 2: FGC Process Flowchart

    Appendix 3: Family Right Group Principles and Practice Guidance

    Appendix 4: FGC Recording Policy


1. Introduction to Family Group Conferences

A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a family decision making and planning process, arranged and facilitated by an Independent Co-ordinator. It is a voluntary process and families must agree to the referral and commit to making changes before the referral can proceed.

FGCs are based on the principles of partnership and are a means of engaging and empowering families. They are designed to promote extended family ownership of problem solving and planning in the best interests of their children, within a professionally supportive framework.

The process aims to make use of the family's strengths and resources and seeks to respect each family's own culture and values.

FGC processes are not conflict resolution approaches; therapeutic interventions; or forums for ratifying professionally crafted decisions. Rather, FGC processes actively seek the collaboration and leadership of family groups in devising and implementing plans that support the care, protection and well-being of the child or young person referred.


2. Aims of the Service

  • To try to prevent the need for children and young people to enter public care;
  • To explore alternative care arrangements within the family, enabling children to remain in their family network so long as it is safe and in their best interests;
  • To encourage and enable fuller and more meaningful participation by families in planning and empower them to take responsibility for the safe care of their children;
  • To engage with parents, the wider family and community, including non-resident parents and relatives, with the aim of building long term supportive networks around families to improve their resilience and decrease dependency on public services;
  • To help build positive working relationships between the family, Doncaster Children's Services Trust and other agencies towards a partnership model;
  • To provide clear information and support to parents and wider family members so they fully understand their rights, options and the expectations of Doncaster Children's Services Trust;
  • To ensure the child's views are heard;
  • To ensure vulnerable family members are supported;
  • To ensure that care proceedings are not initiated without consideration being given to the appropriateness of convening a FGC;
  • To provide a flexible, accessible, cost effective and culturally sensitive service;
  • To deliver good quality FGC's which families and young people tell us make a difference in their lives;
  • The seek the child's views in ways appropriate to their age and understanding.


3. Key Elements of Family Group Conferences

  • The FGC is a major decision making forum for the child, notwithstanding any legal or statutory requirements;
  • The FGC is accessible to as wide a network of family members as possible. 'Family' is defined broadly to include; the child, parents, extended family and significant others - including friends, neighbours, community support networks who may know the child but are not blood relations;
  • An independent co-ordinator facilitates the involvement of the child, family network and any professionals in the FGC process;
  • Pre-meeting preparation is KEY to the success of the process and will make up most of the co-ordinators' time;
  • Professionals provide clear, accessible and relevant information to the family about what their plan needs to achieve, resources available and any "bottom lines";
  • The family should always have private discussion time at the FGC to produce their plan for the care and protection of the child/ren;
  • The family's plan should be always be accepted unless it places a child at risk of significant harm or does not meet legal requirements. It should be resourced within reasonable limits;
  • The FGC plan is monitored and reviewed.


4. Referral Criteria for Family Group Conferences

The service is targeted towards children, young people (aged 0-18) and their families. The service accepts referrals for:

  • Children who are at risk of coming into public care;
  • Children who have been taken into care on an emergency basis;
  • Children who are in care and for whom an exit strategy or rehabilitation plan is needed;
  • Children for whom a significant change in the Care Plan is proposed, which includes extended family;
  • Children for whom Public Law Outline Processes have been instigated;
  • Children in need including in need of receiving safeguarding support and early help services;
  • For all cases it is also expected that families will be assessed as being likely to understand and engage with Family Group Conference procedure and methods.
It is important to appreciate that FGCs are not an emergency response. They are a planned process and the recommendation for a Family Group Conference should be made following an assessment of the case. The professionals involved should be clear about the desired outcomes and what options are not acceptable. The expected timescale for the process is 6 - 8 weeks from referral to the meeting.


5. Referral Process for Family Group Conferences

  • If a family meet the referral criteria and an FGC referral is considered by the social worker or case holder and their manager to be appropriate, the family should have the process fully explained to them with reference to the relevant information leaflets. DVD's are available providing information about the FGC process for families to help to prepare the family. Additionally families are sign posted to YouTube to view a FGC in practice. Consultation from the FGC Service is available to support social workers and case holders in this and a joint home visit to the family to explain the process can be requested. The referrer should confirm the family's willingness to participate in the process, highlighting the issues which need to be addressed and making clear any specific reservations the department may have regarding the options for future planning. The family must fully understand the process they are considering, including information about confidentiality, child protection, previous criminal convictions and the availability of support services;
  • Referrers must remain child-focused. A child who is of sufficient age and understanding to grasp the central premise of the FGC process must be given a voice. Where there is conflict between carers and children about a referral to FGC there must be a period of consultation/mediation in an attempt to reach consensus. Where this fails and a child is in care, legal procedures may need to be considered and legal advice sought, i.e. it may be possible through the use of legal means for an FGC to be held which involves significant people in the child's life but perhaps not the parents. However, wherever possible consent from parents should be attempted;
  • Where an FGC is deemed non-viable, the referral will be returned to the referrer with the reasons clearly recorded and they requested to add details to the case file;
  • If a referral is accepted in principle, the social worker should complete the request for FGC in consultation with the family. This must then be signed by the child (if appropriate), parent/carer with parental responsibility, referrer and line manager. The referral form will also confirm agreement to the sharing of information as necessary between the family and the participating agencies;
  • Upon receipt of the request the FGC co-ordinator will contact the social worker / case holder and arrange an initial meeting with him/her to clarify:
    • Timescales/deadlines/significant dates;
    • Roles and responsibilities;
    • That the family has been provided with information about FGC's and has agreed to participate in FGC process;
    • That the social worker / case holder understands the requirement to attend and remain for the duration of the FGC;
    • Ascertain how best to maintain contact with each other (take into account part-time working, school holidays availability, and gather e-mail address and mobile phone numbers to facilitate contact);
    • Discuss expectations and any anxieties;
    • Clarify the FGC co-ordinator's role in the preparation and meeting process and as facilitator of the process not case-holder;
    • Are there any personal safety issues which the FGC co-ordinator should know about?
    • Clarify any new information relating to the family's circumstances and establish what information has been shared to date;
    • Issues of race/culture/language/religion/disability.

The referrer will complete an FGC Information Report. The report needs to be clear, jargon free and highlight the main issues for the family to consider and what resources there are available.

The carers/family and practitioners must fully appreciate and be clear that family plans must address identified issues of risk, i.e. the outcome must be that child/ren are safe and not likely to suffer future Significant Harm, if the family plan is to be accepted.

Referrers must be clear about what is non-negotiable in relation to their service's view for the child and the consequences which will occur should the family not be able to meet the 'bottom line', e.g. families need to know if an application for care proceedings will be considered if no change is able to be made within the family.


6. Preparation

Every effort will be made to appoint an independent co-ordinator who reflects the family's preference in terms of ethnicity and language spoken. They will work with the family to set up the meeting.

It is usual for the FGC co-ordinator to start by contacting the parent/carer the child lives with (unless the referrer or co-ordinator has good reason to start with other family members instead). They will meet the family to:

  • Explain the FGC process and talk through the Information report. The parent/s and/or those with parental responsibility will need to consent to share information openly at the FGC. Without the family's consent to share the report and the information within it, the FGC cannot proceed;
  • Identify which family members and professionals/service providers to invite;
  • Arrange a suitable venue at a time agreed by all parties (which may be in the evening or at the weekend).The venue needs to be neutral, accessible and comfortable;
  • Identify what help might they need in preparation;
  • Whether they need a supporter or friend;
  • Explore if they need a pre-meeting with anyone in preparation for the FGC;
  • Discuss how they want information provided to them;
  • Are there access, travel, child care arrangements that need to be made to enable attendance.

It is critical that the professionals, family and child understand and buy into the FGC process. The FGC co-ordinator may need to energise, encourage and motivate the young person and the family and help them start thinking about what they want and how the FGC process can help them achieve their goals.

During the process any issues brought to the FGC co-ordinator's attention by the family requiring a decision will be passed back to the social worker for action/decision. If during the co-ordinator's contact with the family he/she identifies any safeguarding issues, these must be taken back immediately to the social worker for action/decision.

In care proceedings if any alternative family member is offering to care for a child, this proposed placement would need to be fully assessed with reference to the Family and Friends (Connected Persons) Fostering Procedure. A social worker has responsibility to organise any such assessment.

Agreeing who Attends

Every family is different and may include: relatives, in-laws, step-relatives and partners, neighbours and community support networks.

The FGC co-ordinator will start with parent/carers and children to discover who is part of their family network. Pictures, photos, family trees, Genograms and ecomaps all help families remember who might be contacted. The co-ordinator will visit and speak to everyone who will be involved in the FGC process whether they are attending the meeting or not. Obviously there can be initial resistance but the focus is on the needs of the child and getting a variety of supportive people to the meeting.

It is important that the FGC co-ordinator remains independent, natural and maintains the position that the identified family network will be invited unless there are exceptional reasons to exclude them. It may be precisely the person the parents are resisting attending who will challenge them or offer a genuine solution. Parents and children may have differing views about who needs to come, and the FGC co-ordinator will negotiate agreement for the inclusion of as wide a family network as possible.

It is rare for a co-ordinator to exclude a family member and this is usually only on safety grounds. The FGC co-ordinator should let the excluded person know they are excluded formally, and the reasons for the exclusion should usually be given in writing. The excluded person should be encouraged to make their views and suggestions known to the meeting by letter/recording/phone call.

Family Supporter/Advocates

Children and young people should be prepared for the FGC so they can be supported to take part in the meeting by: planning what they want to say and how and when they want to say it, ensuring that they feel emotionally supported in the meeting if it becomes difficult, that they can respond to what adults say if they want to, they have opportunity to check understanding by asking questions and challenging if they need to.

It is paramount that children’s voices are heard and are central to the FGC process. At all stages, from preparation through to final family planning, the young person needs to be not only involved in the process, but also in the decisions that affect them.

Co-ordinators are facilitators of the whole FGC process and as such have no role themselves as supporters or advocates to particular individuals, except in the most general sense. It would not be appropriate for a FGC co-ordinator to become partisan at an FGC by supporting the child in getting their view heard.

Options to assure that this is accomplished include the use of family supporters or advocates. The FGC co-ordinator will:

  • Help the young person identify someone in the family/friendship network who might support them at the meeting. Ideally this is someone not centrally involved with the 'problem', maybe an aunt or more distant family member. Sometimes children choose a youth worker or teaching assistant;
  • Enable that person to meet the young person to elicit their views prior to the conference;
  • Meet with the identified support person and 'coach' them into the role of representing and assuring that the child's views be heard;
  • Suggest that the young person is helped by a supporter (not the FGC co-ordinator) to draw pictures, write down 'wishes and worries' or make notes or posters to take to the FGC. At the start of the meeting the Co-ordinator introduces that person in their role as supporter to the child.

Where family supporters are not available or appropriate and the child would like support then an independent advocate who will be suitable prepared for the role can be identified to support them. The advocate will normally support the child during stages 1 and 3 of the FGC (see sections below), and only participate in private family time at the express wish of the child and other family members. Any external advocate is there just for the child, and will leave the room if the child does unless the child explicitly requests them to remain.

Children are encouraged to participate in their FGC including attend the meeting where age appropriate. Younger children can be a part of the FGC process and attend the meeting, however this is dependent on their level of maturity, their wishes and the appropriateness of the information shared at the meeting.

Wishes and feelings work will be undertaken with children who are not attending their meeting. A photo, toy, picture/poster, letter or wish list will be brought to the meeting to maintain focus on that child. An advocate can attend part of the meeting to represent the child's views.

Preparing Service Providers

The FGC co-ordinator will:

  • Recap on the process;
  • Agree their availability as far ahead of the meeting as possible, work with the timings that suit the family but acknowledge and be realistic about service-providers constraints;
  • Discuss the information they are bringing - it is important they talk about strengths as well as concerns, and explain clearly about resources and services available without being prescriptive;
  • Decide how they will put information across. This is generally brief, clear, reports usually verbal, supported by using bullet-points or notes on flip chart- they should all have been previously shared with child's parent/carer;
  • No 'new news' - check that any new information has been shared with the parents/carers and child/ren in advance;
  • Confirm any limitations to what they can agree to in respect of the family plan, acknowledging child protection or legal reasons;
  • Identify and discuss availability/capacity of service provision and resources in advance;
  • Prepare them to anticipate questions they may be asked, and how the family may feel about the agency they represent.


7. Family Group Conference Process

Information Giving Stage

At the start of the meeting the co-ordinator chairs the information giving stage. Professionals in attendance present their report to the family in clear jargon-free language and will set out anything which could not be agreed to as part of the family plan. Any plan devised by a family must meet the minimum requirements set out by the social worker and other professionals for safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare and must not place the child at any risk.

The child may elect to put their point of view over at this stage, with the help of their support person or advocate, or share drawings or written information.

If absent professionals have sent written information, it is better read out by a colleague than the FGC co-ordinator to maintain independence and neutrality.

The family are then given the opportunity to seek clarification regarding the social workers / case holders concerns and ask any questions they have. The family need to be well informed so that they can produce their plan.

Private Family Time

Once the family has enough information and is clear what is being asked of them, the co-ordinator and any other professionals leave the meeting, so the family can plan in private. It is an important principle in FGC's that the family have time to talk among themselves without any staff from agencies being present. The family should be able to meet for as long as they wish to formulate their family plan in private. It is essential that the social worker and co-ordinator are available during this time should the family need any clarification or additional information.

Presenting and Agreeing the Family Plan

Once the family has agreed a plan, the co-ordinator re-joins the meeting to go through the plan. The co-ordinator plays a supportive role in this process, helping to clarify and make the plan as detailed as possible. It is important that at this stage timescales and names of those responsible for any tasks should be clarified.

The social worker / case holder and any key professionals then meet again with the family to hear the plan and for the social worker / case holder to agree the plan. The plan must be agreed if it is safe, legal and has answered the questions asked of the family.

Once a FGC meeting has taken place, the co-ordinator will type up the family plan which will be distributed to everyone who was part of the process within two working days. The plan will contain:

  • Details of all the parties and family members contacted to participate in the process;
  • The details of time, date and venue of the FGC;
  • A list of everyone who attended the meeting;
  • The family plan agreed in the meeting;
  • A date for a review if applicable.

Monitoring and Reviewing the Plan

The social worker / case holder and family members remain responsible for the on-going monitoring of the plan. The success of the plan will depend upon the family and professionals working together, and informing each other about the progress of the plan.

A Review FGC will be offered to the family and a date set if the family feel that this would be beneficial. The aim of the Review FGC is to review whether the family plan has progressed or if any adjustments to the plan are required.


Appendix 1: Guidance for Completion of FGC Forms

Click here to view Appendix 1: Guidance for Completion of FGC Forms.


Appendix 2: FGC Process Flowchart

Click here to view Appendix 2: FGC Process Flowchart.


Appendix 3: Family Right Group Principles and Practice Guidance

The following Principles and Practice Guidance are intended to let families to know what they can expect from a family group conference. They are also an important guide for agencies offering or working with family group conferences, to enable them to check that they are providing families with a good standard of service.

The Principles sets out what families should expect.

The Practice Guidance describes how the principles will be met.

Principle 1 Families have the right to clear, appropriate information about the family group conference process.
Practice
  1. Families must be given clear information about what a family group conference is and why they have been offered one;
  2. Families must be informed about timescales and possible delays;
  3. Information must be available in a way that meets the needs of the family;
  4. All family members invited must be told who they can contact if they have any questions about the process and about how they can make a complaint.
Principle 2 Families have the right to be involved in the planning of the meeting.
Practice
  1. Where possible, co-ordinators should reflect the local community and families will be offered a co-ordinator who speaks their language and who has an understanding of the way religious beliefs, cultural traditions and other lifestyle issues influence how the family operates;
  2. A co-ordinator who is independent will work with the family to arrange the family group conference. 'Independent' means that they have not and will not be involved in making any decisions about the child;
  3. The meeting will take place at a time, date and place agreed with the family;
  4. Adults and young people will need to consent to information held by agencies being shared at the meeting;
  5. The co-ordinator will work with the family and young person to decide who needs to be at the meeting;
  6. The family will decide what language will be used at the family group conference, with interpreters provided for the others present as needed;
  7. The co-ordinator may decide to exclude individual family members from the meeting if there are concerns that their presence would be a risk to anyone's safety.
Principle 3 Family members have the right to be acknowledged as decision makers in the family group conference process.
Practice
  1. The agency that referred the family for a family group conference must be clear about what decisions, if any, they may be unable to support and must give reasons for this;
  2. The child or young person and any other family member who requires it will be offered someone to help them make their contribution throughout the process. This person may be called an advocate or supported and may be someone within the family network, or someone outside the family. They will not be someone who is able to make decisions about the family;
  3. The family must be given relevant, factual and jargon free information about the agencies' concerns and the resources available;
  4. Parents must be given written information about the agencies' concerns at least 24 hours before the conference;
  5. Reasonable travel costs and other expenses will be paid for family members who need it;
  6. Family members will have the opportunity to share their concerns and have their questions answered before and at the meeting;
  7. Family members unable to attend for any reason will be supported in contributing in other ways.
Principle 4 Families have the right to private family time and a supportive and safe environment to make plans.
Practice
  1. Families must be given time to meet on their own without the co-ordinator or staff from agencies being present;
  2. The co-ordinator must ensure there is a suitable area and time allocated, with appropriate refreshments, for the family to make decisions;
  3. Childcare provision should be available if required;
  4. The co-ordinator will work with everyone to enable them to make a plan that meets the needs of the child.
Principle 5 Families have the right to have safe plans agreed and resourced.
Practice
  1. The referring agency must agree to support the family's plans unless it places a child at risk of harm and must provide reasonable resources to make it happen;
  2. All family members and agencies who attend the conference will receive a copy of the plan within a stated time. The plan will include details of what resources the family needs and how the proposals in the plan will be carried out and monitored;
  3. The family, referring agency and co-ordinator will agree how the plan will be reviewed, whether a follow-up review should take place and who will be responsible for making this happen;
  4. Every effort should be made to respond to the family's plan at the meeting. Families will be informed who will give them a written response, when and how, if the plan or some of the resources cannot be agreed at the conference;
  5. Agencies whose support is required to carry out a plan should respond within ten days to say whether they can provide the support requested and if necessary, how long this will take to provide.
Principle 6 Families have the right to be involved in the development of Family group conferences.
Practice
  1. All families will be offered the opportunity to give their opinion of the service they have received;
  2. Where possible, families will be kept informed about changes made as a result of their comments;
  3. Families should have to opportunity to have contact with other families who used the service;
  4. Families who have attended a family group conference should have the opportunity to be involved in developing policies and practice about family group conferences.


Appendix 4: FGC Recording Policy

Summary

FGC is a process rather than an intervention and the service's primary function is to facilitate this process. Therefore, FGCs do not sit easily with standard recording policies. The co-ordinators task is to identify and prepare the participants and convene the meeting and review. The outcome of their involvement is the FGC and the resulting family plan.

FGC Co-ordinators are neutral, independent, facilitators. They are not case holders, decision makers or information gatherers. As such, all recording will reflect information related solely to the FGC, i.e. dates and times of preparation visits to FGC participants. A detailed record will only be made when there is information given relating to safeguarding concerns for a child or other person's safety. These records will be forwarded immediately to the allocated case holder.

Recording Procedure

To ensure that Doncaster Children's Services Trust FGC service is in line with national standards the service has adopt the following recording procedure.

What the referrer / social worker will record:

It is the referrer’s responsibility as the case holder (not the co-ordinator) to record the following information on the child or young person's file on liquid logic (LL):

  • The request for service/referral form;
  • Consents to FGC by the referrer, their line manager and a family member with PR (scanned into forms on LL);
  • The information report (completed by the referrer);
  • The family plan made at the FGC (which the co-ordinator types up and forwards to the referrer following the FGC);
  • Any amendments to the family plan following the review (which the co-ordinator types up and forwards to the referrer);
  • Any safeguarding concerns arising throughout the process (which the co-ordinator passes onto the referrer);

What the co-ordinator will record:

  • Referral form;
  • Names and contact details of all participants;
  • Dates and times of preparation visits to FGC participants;
  • Reasons for excluding anyone from participating where necessary;
  • A copy of the family plan;
  • Details of any child protection or health and safety issues which emerged during the process;
  • Feedback forms.

Co-ordinators working notes will not be recorded on the4 child’s case file on Liquid Logic due to the co-ordinators neutral, facilitative role. No minutes are taken at FGCs and the only outcome should be the family’s plan. Any written submission from a participant who was unable to attend the FGC will be returned to them as the author, likewise the wishes and feelings of the children shared at their FGC.

Families will be informed about what information is kept and by whom:

  • Written and verbal feedback from families, young people and children and referrers is sought to identify strengths in the service and areas for future development;
  • Social workers are part of the process and agree (or decline) plans at the FGC;
  • Family plans are reviewed 6-12 weeks after the initial Family Group Conference;
  • Reported outcomes and other feedback from these reviews is used to inform monitoring reports;
  • Particular attention is paid to any equality issues arising;
  • Data is considered and reported on reflecting the impact of the service on outcomes for children;
  • Complaints and compliments are sought and stored, shared with the customer experience officer unless expressly asked not to be;
  • Quality assurance audit activity to be developed to measure impact including on wider themes such as re-referral, escalation and de-escalation.

The service also collates statistical information such as referral numbers, sources, legal status, ages of children and numbers in each family, dates of referrals and FGCs and reviews, children’s attendance and advocacy uptake.

End