What is a family group conference?
It is a process where the wider family makes decisions about a child or young person who has been identified either by the family or by service providers as in need of a plan to safeguard and promote their welfare.
Where do FGCs originate from?
Family group conferencing was pioneered among the Maori community in New Zealand during the 1970s and 1980s because of the disproportionate number of Maori children on social workers’ caseloads and being taken into care. The practice then developed in the US from 1989 and the model is now used in different forms in at least 40 states. The first Australian project was set up in 1992 and through the 1990s the model was applied in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Other countries followed suit.
What about the UK?
Family group conferencing arrived in the UK in the early 1990s, with the Family Rights Group taking a leading role in establishing a number of pilot projects. It is in development or practised in 55% of English local authority areas. FGCs have also been promoted and endorsed in guidance issued by the National Assembly for Wales in 2000 and 2001. In Scotland, Children 1st has pioneered the use of the FGC model. The first projects were established in 1998, and the charity now co-manages FGC services in an increasing number of local authority areas. There is also one in-house FGC service at Edinburgh Council.
So what happens?
Once the need for an FGC is agreed by the family, an independent co-ordinator is appointed. Each local area will have its own criteria and processes for this. The co-ordinator, with the young person and their immediate carers, identifies the family network, which can include close friends. The basic premise is that they have a meeting to come up with their own plan to tackle concerns. This redresses the power imbalance often experienced by children and their families who come into contact with services. The co-ordinator also arranges for any professionals involved with the young person to attend the meeting.
At the start of the meeting the professionals give the family the information they have about the child or young person and about services, resources and support that may be available. Then the co-ordinator and professionals withdraw, leaving the family to plan in private.
The family has three basic tasks:
● To agree a plan that meets the needs of the child or young person.
● To agree contingency plans.
● To agree how to monitor and review the plan.
Once the family have agreed a plan, the co-ordinator, the referrer and the key professionals meet again with the family to hear the plan and negotiate resources.
What happens after the FGC?
Primary responsibility for monitoring the plan lies with the family. The family is asked to identify a member who will inform the necessary professionals if the plan is not working. The co-ordinator circulates the plan to all family and professional attendees. It becomes the working tool in the period leading up to the review. The way in which the plan is reviewed will depend on the needs of the child, the family and the statutory responsibilities of any agencies involved. A review FGC is often recommended.