How social workers can use family group conferences in adults services

FGCs have been used in child protection cases in the UK for more than 20 years, but are still relatively rare in adults' services

Family group conferences (FGCs) have been used in the UK since 1992, largely in child protection and child welfare cases.

They bring together immediate and extended family, friends and professionals to address concerns about a child or vulnerable person, and are family-led. But despite this long history of use in children’s services, FGCs are relatively new, and still quite rare, in adult’s services.

Linda Tapper, independent family group conference trainer and consultant, has written Community Care Inform Adults’ guide to using FGCs in adult safeguarding. These are some quick points from her guide. Inform subscribers can read the in-depth guide, and watch an Inform video of a fictional family group conference.

What can FGCs be used for?

There’s a wide range of potential use for family group conferences. For adults, safeguarding is often the reason for referral – though this is a broad spectrum that could include deliberate abuse, neglect, self-neglect or prevention. Other possible situations are dementia support, transition from children’s to adults’ services, and best interests decision-making.

Key principles

A key principle behind FGCs is the empowerment of the vulnerable person, so they are enabled to participate fully in the process and can express their views.

Another crucial belief is that family members are the ‘experts’ on their own situation – so if professionals work with and support their strengths, we are more likely to achieve a good outcome. In addition, empowering families to work together to find solutions can have long-term benefits for individuals, and reduce reliance on services.

The process

Once a referral is received by the FGC service, it is allocated to a trained co-ordinator. This co-ordinator could have come from a variety of different backgrounds; social work, nursing, the police force are all represented, as well as many others. A common theme is experience of working with individuals and families in a variety of settings.

The co-ordinator is then in charge of preparing for the FGC, which can take three to six weeks.

The conference itself

The FGC is comprised of three distinct stages:

  1. Information sharing: social workers and other service providers give reports that include information on their role, current concerns and available resources. The family can then ask questions.
  2. Private family time: the person and their family and friends are left alone to decide what they want to do.
  3. Agreeing the plan: when the family are ready, the co-ordinator and referring social worker return to hear their proposed plan.

Around six to eight weeks after the initial conference, there will be an FGC review meeting. The review usually takes less time, but has the same three stage process.

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