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2.2.3 Family Group Conferences


This chapter should be read in conjunction with Family and Friends Policy.

This chapter was reviewed and updated in October 2009.


  1. Service Description
  2. The Process of a Family Group Conference
  3. Aims of the Local Authority
  4. Objectives
  5. Criteria
  6. Accessing the Family Group Conference Service
  7. Procedures
  8. The Role of the Referrer
  9. Reviewing the Plan

1. Service Description

1.1 Family Group Conference (FGC) schemes have been operating in the UK for over ten years. They are currently used in the UK by Social Services, Education, Health and Youth Justice Departments to address a number of issues that are of concern to families and children.
1.2 A FGC is a meeting that is held with as many family members as possible. FGCs are designed to place families at the heart of the decision-making process, empowering them to take an active role in improving the lives of their children.
1.3 Family in this context refers to blood relatives and non-related significant family, friends, neighbours, voluntary/community agencies and faith groups.

2. The Process of a Family Group Conference

2.1 At the beginning of the FGC the Coordinator explains the purpose of the meeting. The referrer and other professionals (information-givers) then present the information and concerns they have about the child and answer any questions that the family members may ask.
2.2 The Coordinator and information-givers then leave the meeting allowing the family to have 'private time' alone to consider all the information, explore possible options and make a plan to keep the child safe from harm.
2.3 The Coordinator and information-givers then rejoin the meeting where the family present their plan and discussion continues as to how the plan will be implemented.
2.4 The fundamental principle of the approach is to ensure that families are given, within parameters set by professionals, the power to make decisions about children within their own families.
2.5 The commitment from agencies involved with children is to ensure that families are supported in making their own decisions.

3. Aims of the Local Authority

3.1 The aim of this policy is to ensure that wherever possible, children and young people are offered the opportunity of growing up with secure and strong attachments to relatives, friends and communities.
3.2 The local authority would wish to promote minimum statutory intervention in the lives of children for whom it has a duty of care, by seeking alternative arrangements with family or friends.
3.3 For the most part, parents make such arrangements with close relatives as a personal matter without the involvement of the statutory sector. In some cases, the local authority would become involved in helping this process through the use of FGCs. The local authority would wish to be satisfied that the plans made at FGCs are in the best interest of the child and recognises that a child's identity needs are best met within the family of origin or a person known to the child.

4. Objectives

4.1 To reduce the number of children and young people becoming Accommodated by the London Borough of Southwark under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
4.2 To reduce the number of children and young people being cared for by the London Borough of Southwark on Interim Care Orders or Care Orders and to increase the number of family placements (under Child Arrangements Orders/ Special Guardianship Orders).
4.3 To facilitate a rapid rehabilitation of children and young people to their immediate or extended families where they have become Looked After.
4.4 To involve the extended family network in devising appropriate support packages for Children in Need to maintain them within their families.
4.5 To reduce the number of children subject to Child Protection Plans and the length of time before the Child Protection Plan can be discontinued.
4.6 To divert high risk children from offending/anti social behaviour

5. Criteria

Consideration must be given to an FGC where:
  • A Single Assessment identifies that a child is at risk of becoming Accommodated under Section 20, Children Act 1989.
  • A child has recently become accommodated and the plan is for early rehabilitation.
  • A Single Assessment identifies the need for a Family Support Plan for a child with a high level of needs e.g. where the carers have mental health or drug and alcohol problems.
  • A Section 47 Enquiry concludes that a child is likely to suffer Significant Harm unless placed away from their immediate family.
  • A Child Protection Conference recommends an FGC as part of devising a Child Protection Plan for a child.
  • Consideration is being given to Care Proceedings in respect of a child suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm
  • As a recommendation of a Looked After Review where this would contribute to permanency planning or the rehabilitation of a child in Southwark's care.

6. Accessing the Family Group Conference Service

6.1 All referrals for an FGC should be made with the authorisation of a team manager. Team managers are expected to sign the referral form.
6.2 Where the young person aged 12-16 yrs. meets the referral criteria for Alternatives to Care (ACT) the referral should be made via the ACT Manager.

7. Procedures

7.1 The decision to refer for an FGC should be made by the team manager of the referring team, the team manager of ACT, or a Service Manager where the criteria for this service are met (see Section 5, Criteria).
7.2 An initial discussion should take place between the referrer, the parents/adults with Parental Responsibility, and the young person (where appropriate), and agreement to a referral obtained. The family should be provided with a leaflet and care taken to ensure that they understand the purpose and process of the FGC.
7.3 The referrer should complete the referral form in. The form should specify the key people to invite and the minimum requirements of any plan developed i.e. the action that will be taken by the local authority if the family is unable to make a suitable plan to safeguard the child or young person. The referrer should also specify the possible resources available.
7.4 All referrals agreed, should be forwarded to the Welcare FGC Service Manager who will process the referral, prioritise and allocate to an FGC Coordinator. Copies of the referral should also be sent to the ACT Team Manager. 
7.5 The FGC Coordinator will be responsible for arranging the FGC and preparing the participants. The Coordinator will reflect the family's preference in terms of ethnicity and gender, where specified. The Coordinator is responsible for all aspects of setting up the FGC.
7.6 The Coordinator will make contact with the referrer to confirm the information provided on the referral form, the key participants and the 'bottom line' i.e. minimum requirements to safeguard the child or young person.
7.7 The Coordinator will make contact with the family members to give information, clarify concerns, confirm participants, identify special requirements such as an advocate, agree a date and venue and prepare those attending.
7.8 The Coordinator will book the venue for the FGC, send invitations, and arrange transport and refreshments. The FGC Coordinator will meet with the referrer to prepare for the conference.
7.9 The Coordinator will chair the Conference, record and distribute the family plan/outcome of the FGC to the family and social worker.
7.10 The Welcare FGC Service Manager will monitor the progress of the referrals, and ensure close liaison with the local authority.

8. The Role of the Referrer


The referrer is expected to attend the entire FGC and make a brief presentation at the beginning of the FGC. This is known as the 'agenda', and should outline:

  • The nature of the concerns, explaining where necessary, their statutory duties and responsibilities
  • The issues that must be addressed by the family in order to resolve the professional concern - it is important that the referrer has clear and specific questions for the family to address and that the family is informed of what action will be taken by the local authority if the situation does not change i.e. the 'bottom line'.

The resources available to support the family should be clear to them at the FGC. Discussions prior to the FGC should have taken place with managers. Managers should where possible be available to discuss resources during FGCs. Commitments should not be made at FGCs that have not been approved by a manager either prior to or during the FGC.

Social Workers attending FGCs in particular are advised to familiarise themselves with Family and Friends Policy.

8.2 During the process of the meeting the referrer is also expected to answer questions put to them by the family, on aspects of their agenda. Once the family has produced a plan, the referrer can ask the family questions about what they have written. Good practice suggests that, as long as the plan does not place the child(ren) at risk and resources have been negotiated, it should be agreed in principle.

9. Reviewing the Plan

9.1 In the majority of cases a single FGC should be sufficient to agree a plan. It is likely that in many cases a review FGC will be required to monitor the implementation of the family plan and these should be offered to all families. In the first instance, the family plan will be agreed by the referrer at the FGC and then later on, ratified by the team manager.
9.2 The success of the plan will depend on the family and the professionals working together, informing each other about the progress of the plan. The team manager will be responsible for agreeing the plan and reviewing progress. The team manager will also be responsible for the allocation of resources.
9.3 Children and young people will also be given the opportunity to evaluate the conference and the plan.