Family group conferences could save councils millions of pounds every year by preventing children from entering the care system, according to research by the Family Rights Group.
In its submission to the Family Justice Review, the charity has proposed routinely offering family group conferences – where extended families make decisions about action plans in partnership with social workers – before children are taken into care.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, said: “Recent research we have carried out shows that within six local authorities that offer family group conferences, 206 children have been prevented from entering the care system or been safely returned to their families at a saving of around £9m”.
“With the current anxiety and uncertainty surrounding public spending cuts, Family Rights Group is proposing a shake-up of the care system which will not only save money but increase the number of children remaining within their families, while remaining true to the principles of the Children Act(s) that the welfare of the child is paramount.”
Despite the success of the conferences, Ashley claims their research has shown that around one-third of local authorities in England do not offer family group conferences, while others do so only at the discretion of individual social workers.
Criminal cases involving 10 to 15-year-olds should be transferred to the family law system if the young person’s behaviour can be attributed to their home circumstances or neglectful parenting, the charity has also recommended.
The same judge should also hear all parts of a care proceedings case, and specialist district judges should be recruited to reduce legal costs and speed up hearings.
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