Family group conferencing (FGC) has long since entered the mainstream of social work practice in children’s services, with three-quarters of local authorities commissioning child welfare FGCs, according to the Family Rights Group. Now increasingly FGC and restorative approaches are on the radar of commissioners in adult services, resulting in child welfare FGC professionals being asked to deliver adult FGCs and embarking on interesting collaborations with their adults’ services colleagues.
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At Camden Council we are following in the footsteps of local authorities like Hampshire and Kent by commissioning family group conferences for adult service users and their families. The recent report from the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ Making Safeguarding Personal project highlighted “significant change in culture and social work practice” from using FGC in adults’ services.
Forging a link between children’s and adults’ professionals
Lyn Romeo, assistant director adult social care, and soon to take up post as England’s first chief social worker for adults, says: “We saw an opportunity to bring the benefits of family group conferencing to adult social care with the added advantage of forging a creative link between adult and children’s services in the important area of service user involvement and personalisation.”
At a recent event in Camden to introduce FGC to adult services professionals, the majority of them had not heard of the model before and for those that had it was through previous work (or student placement) in children’s services. Despite this, a definite chord was struck with colleagues, based on family group conferencing’s aim of putting service users in control and its chief calling card – giving family groups private family time. Adults’ services colleagues recognised FGC as a useful tool for the personalisation of services and they easily identified potential benefits:
- empowering family as decision-makers;
- improving partnership working between family and other partners;
- harmonising previously fractured relationships; and
- maintaining service users in the community for longer.
Our experience in Camden so far then is that the model maintains its appeal and progressive values when exported beyond child welfare work. Yet there are differences for FGC staff and co-ordinators when applying the model to working with adults. For that reason, we have engaged Daybreak, the charity that pioneered adult FGCs in Hampshire, to support Camden in our service with expert training and consultancy.
Learning points for chidren’s professionals
A key element for our FGC co-ordinators, some of whom have been doing child welfare FGCs for over 10 years, is to learn how to approach issues around mental capacity. A family group conference can, depending on the capacity and wishes of the adult, give that individual total control over decision-making or it can invite the family and friend group to make best interests decisions on behalf of that adult service user.
One major benefit of an FGC is that it is a meeting process geared to providing bespoke solutions, so a conference can accommodate different levels of capacity. For example, an older person might take the major decision to stay in their own home and yet ask their family group to plan the minor financial and practical decisions necessary to make this happen.
Someone who has charted family group conferencing’s development as a progressive force in social work is Professor Frank Früchtel, from the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences, including in a recent article for the British Journal of Social Work. He has developed the idea of a family group conference being a bridge for professional services to engage the “lifeworld” – the informal community around the individual. Professor Früchtel, who is due to visit Camden with some of his students to see our adults FGC model in actions, believes extending the model is a step forward.
“FGCs in Camden do more than problem-solving,” he says. “They are building relationships and supporting a greater degree of self-help – actually, I prefer “we-help”, since the side-effect is the strengthening of relationships. People start to support each other, or at least to care for each other. FGC is therefore a way of community building.”
FGC has been a beacon model for the empowerment of children and families for more than 20 years. It is exciting that adult services are adopting the model, assessing its benefits and reflecting back learning from the adult environment, showing children’s services ways to make family group conferencing even more personal.
Tim Fisher is Camden’s family group conference service manager. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Camden’s adults FGC scheme.
Family group conferencing ‘can transform social work with adults’