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W3C Compliance

7.1.7 Family Group Conference

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

No child in Merton should become looked after, except in an emergency, in advance of a Family Group Conference taking place. This applies to children who become looked after under Section 20.

As a priority, there is an expectation that parents/guardians agreeing for any child aged 12-15 years to be accommodated under s.20 must agree to cooperate with a Family Group Conference with a view to addressing issues of concern to enable the young person to return home or to their family network when it is safe and appropriate for that to happen. At the point of giving s.20 agreement, Social Workers must provide parents/guardians with information about Family Group Conferences and a letter outlining the Local Authority's expectation.

The only exceptions are children who become looked after under Police Powers of Protection or under an Emergency Protection Order, children who become looked after under S31 or as a result of a Remand to Secure Accommodation or Local authority Accommodation in criminal proceedings.


Contents

  1. Origin and Purpose
  2. Application of FGCs
  3. Referrals


1. Origin and Purpose

The use of FGCs in the UK followed their introduction in New Zealand in 1989 where new law reflected a belief (itself rooted in Maori tradition) that 'given the resources, the information and the power, a family group will make safe and appropriate decisions for children. The role of professionals such as Social Workers and Doctors should not be to make decisions but to facilitate decision making by providing information, resources and expertise that will assist the family group. Professionals will have a crucial role as resources people' (Department of Social Welfare New Zealand 1989).

FGCs are a way of making decisions about children that keeps or returns the responsibility to the family, with the support of professional's expertise and resources as necessary. FGCs are suitable where the family will have the opportunity to make significant decisions about a plan, not just 'rubber stamp' existing professional plans.

By holding a FGC, Merton is agreeing to support the family's plan unless it places the child at increased risk. The earlier in the planning and decision making process the extended family can be involved, the better.


2. Application of FGCs

At the time of issuing these procedures, Merton has agreed more extensive use of FGCs.

It is intended to offer families the chance to make plans for their children through a FGC whenever a significant decision has to be made.

FGCs must be offered unless there are clear reasons not to upon:

Merton’s Priority Groups

Merton’s priority groups for the use of FGCs are children:

  • At risk of being or who have just been accommodated;
  • Where the need for a permanent placement has been decided and a plan needs to be made to achieve one.

Consequently, FGCs must be considered:

  • Where there has been a request for accommodation, either to look for an alternative or to use accommodation as part of a long term plan;
  • Where an EPO has just been obtained, either to plan for longer term placement or to look for a temporary placement pending finalising long term plans.

FGCs might also be useful to determine long-term placement e.g:

  • During care proceedings as a means of informing the s31 Care Plan to be presented to the Court;
  • Where a decision has been made that a child subject to a Care Order needs a permanent placement;
  • Where a long term placement outside the family has been sought for some time without success.

FGCs can be especially helpful in situations where:

  • The Social Worker is in contact only with a small proportion of the family and may lack and/or be unable to obtain details on the rest;
  • The family or significant elements of it e.g. the father have been difficult to engage;
  • There are disagreements within the family about plans for the child;
  • There are disagreements between family and professionals;
  • Major decisions have been made in the past without family involvement.

The core elements which make an effective FGC more likely are:

  • A wide view of 'family' and an inclusive approach;
  • It will be the family’s decision/choice in regards to which professionals are invited to the FGC. The role of the professional will need to be clarified;
  • Child / young person attends and advocate offered who is also able to represent the views of the child/young person in agreement with the parents/parents consent will be sought;
  • The child/young person has the choice of who they would like to support/represent them at the conference. Dependent on the age of the young person parental consent may be required. If the young person does not wish to attend the FGC their voice will be obtained via a written statement/letter;
  • Opportunity for private discussion and decision making;
  • Resources identified will need to be discussed with the relevant Team Manager/budget holder;
  • Process for agreeing, implementing, monitoring and reviewing plans if needed or necessary. The Family are to be made aware of how a review can be undertaken;
  • Family clear about consequence of no or an unsafe plan.

The role of the family is to:

  • Attend the FGC;
  • Develop a plan;
  • Implement the plan; and
  • Monitor its impact.

The role of the co-ordinator is to:

  • Identify and encourage families to explore the wider family network;
  • Assist the refer (social worker/practitioner) in formulating an agenda;
  • Prepare the family;
  • Convene the FGC;
  • Talk to the child or young person and identify her/his wishes and discuss how these will be presented to the meeting - arranging an advocate or support person from within or outside the family as appropriate dependent on age and understanding and parental agreement;
  • Encourage and support attendance at the meeting;
  • Chair the information giving stage;
  • Help clarify the plan;
  • Enable the family to feed back its plan;
  • Type up the minutes/plan and distribute to family members, Social Worker, Team Manager and Expert Practitioner;
  • Ask family members if they want to review the plan at a review FGC and agree a date for this.

The role of the Social Worker is to:

  • Discuss and offer an FGC to the family;
  • Make a referral;
  • Undertake any necessary assessments;
  • Introduce/prepare the family;
  • Offer information about concerns and potential resources;
  • Prepare an agenda using the template provided;
  • Consider the family's proposed plan and monitoring and reviewing arrangements;
  • Support the family's implementation, monitoring and reviewing of the plan;
  • Deliver services as agreed and implement Children's Social Care part of the plan.

The role of the Adoption Social Worker is to:

  • Attend the FGC and provide the family with information in regards to Residence or Special Guardianship Orders;
  • Adoption within the family;
  • Kinship foster care, but also non - Familial adoption, fostering;
  • Also, where appropriate, residential care.

Provide leaflets for the family to take away and fully consider.

The role of other professionals is to:

  • Carry out any necessary assessments;
  • Provide information about need and about services;
  • Implement their part of the plan;
  • Participate in monitoring and reviewing implementation.

The role of Managers, Assistant Team Managers or Expert Practitioners is to:

  • Agree and support the referral for an FGC;
  • Assist the referrer formulate a clear agenda;
  • To ensure that the signed agenda is returned to the FGC Co-ordinator within 7 working days;
  • Ensure that referring Social Worker is clear about potential resources;
  • Agree the plan; and
  • Ensure sufficient accountability in implementation, monitoring and review of plan.

The FGC can then, be modelled as follows:

  • Stage 1: Referral (needs to be made at the Initial Child Protection Conference or as soon as Accommodation is required) - The need for a plan is agreed. The referral is made by the Social Worker/Practitioner (to the Administrator - The Family Support & Assessment Service (Bond Road) identifying the issues to be addressed. A FGC coordinator is then appointed who meets with the social worker to discuss the questions and advise regarding formulate the draft agenda;
  • Stage 2: Setting the Agenda - The Social Worker formulates the questions to be presented to the conference and identifies what is possible and what is not i.e. making clear what the Department's bottom line is for ensuring the safety and welfare of the child; The agenda must be signed by the Manager, Assistant Team Manager or Expert Practitioner then sent to the FGC Co-ordinator within 7 working days;
  • Stage 3: Preparation - Co-ordinator in consultation with Parent, child, and young person( if age appropriate)e and immediate carers to discuss the potential arrangements which includes, identifying family network, meets with family and friends, agrees venue, date / time, issues invitations and prepares participants;
  • Stage 4: Information Giving - At the start of the meeting the Co-ordinator chairs the information sharing. Professionals explain their roles,responsibilities, any concerns and local resources. The family can seek clarification. There will be a break for refreshments before the family have private planning time;
  • Stage 5: Private Family Time - Professionals withdraw and the family work out a plan, a contingency position, specify required resources and monitoring and review arrangements;
  • Stage 6: Agreeing, Monitoring and Reviewing Plan - The Co-ordinator and professionals re-join the family and the plan is clarified. Resources are negotiated if possible within the meeting and the plan agreed unless it places the child at risk of significant harm.

The Social Worker who is responsible for any situation that meets the criteria outlined in Section 2, Application of FGCs should discuss it with her/his supervisor and obtain agreement.

The next step is to give the immediate family (relatives caring for the child and holding Parental Responsibility) a copy of the Department's leaflet about FGCs and if required the Local Authority’s Complaints Form.

The Social Worker should explain that the family is being offered an opportunity to make decisions and plans through a FGC.

Someone with parental responsibility needs to agree that a FGC be held and where s/he has sufficient understanding, the child or young person must also be give a leaflet and consulted.

The immediate family must be asked if they have preferences about the ethnicity, culture, religion or gender of the co-ordinator who will organise the FGC. Unless the family indicates otherwise, the Team Manager (Family Support & Assessment Service) will try to ensure as close as possible a match between the family and the co-ordinator. The FGC Co-ordinator is responsible for ensuring that an interpreter is provided and documents are translated when required.

If the agreement is refused, it is possible in certain circumstances to proceed e.g. cases in which the Department also holds parental responsibility through a Care Order/case in is proceedings, or where there is a clear need to make plans for the child and the child's interests would be served by involving the extended family.

The Family Support & Assessment Team Manager must be contacted to discuss such and it may also be appropriate to take legal advice.


3. Referrals

The FGC Administrator, on request, will supply a referral form.

This form must be completed and e-mailed back to the FGC Administrator. Once the Referral is allocated the FGC Co-ordinator will arrange to meet with the referring Social Worker to clarify:

  • The Department's concerns;
  • Questions that the FGC would need to address;
  • Any 'baseline' e.g. any outcomes that would be unacceptable because they would place the child at risk;
  • Involvement of other agencies; (other agencies will be involved in the FGC in agreement with the parents);
  • Families availability to convene the FGC;
  • Consideration of the potential resources the family should be given information about;
  • Whether there is any known history of abuse by family members towards staff in line with Merton’s Health & Safety and Lone Worker Policy.

The Family Support & Assessment Team Manager will then arrange for an independent FGC co-ordinator to work with the family, Social Worker and other relevant agencies in arranging the FGC.

Social Work – FGC Agenda document

Social Workers will need to prepare an agenda (template will be provided) for presentation at the FGC. The use of professional jargon should be avoided and the information should be provided in as clear and specific a way as possible.

The format is as follows:

  • Name of child or young person;
  • Brief description of current situation/reason for Children's Social Care involvement;
  • Family Strengths;
  • Resources potentially available to the family;
  • Questions for the family to answer;
  • If nothing changes, what is ‘the bottom line’?

Resources

An important task for the referring Social Worker is to give the family information about the resources that are available to them to use in making their plan.

This task is often not taken seriously enough and a key point is that that the Social Worker should not list resources which are suitable for only one type of outcome or plan. Information about resources from a range of agencies should be given.

Where the child or young person needs permanency and that is amongst the issues to be resolved by the FGC, the resources listed must include those appropriate to care within the family network and also those involving stranger care.

It is thus relevant to talk about Residence or Special Guardianship Orders, adoption within the family, kinship foster care but also stranger adoption and fostering and where relevant residential care.

The available financial support for family network placements must also be listed. As much detail as possible should be given, although it is recognised that full details may often not be immediately available. Where family network placements will be subject to assessments, this should be stated.

Other support for family network carers - e.g. social work, counselling, specialist agency support and consultation should be mentioned.

Where the family may be considering how to support the child's immediate carers, information about services from the Department and other agencies, including private and voluntary agencies should be provided. E.g. there is a wide range of non-statutory services for parents, people with drug and alcohol dependencies and other problems and it is helpful if these can be indicated.

If it is the Department's view that looking after the child or young person would place her/him at greater or equal risk to the current situation this must be made clear. If it remains the family's wish and is put into its plan, it is important that the reasons are listened to carefully and it may be appropriate to consult with senior staff and ask them to re-consider the Department's decision.

Social Work Role Prior to FGC

Prior to the FGC, apart from offering the FGC to the family and making the referral as outlined above, the task of the Social Worker is to complete any necessary assessment and based on this, to inform the immediate family of concerns and of any 'baseline'.

It is helpful that the FGC agenda is finalised immediately after the referral meeting as a finalised FGC agenda signed by the Social Work manager is required before the FGC Co-ordinator can begin to engage the family. The FGC Coordinator will take the agenda out to parents and seek their agreement to go ahead with the FGC and who will be involved.

The co-ordinator must be informed of any significant developments that affect the information going to the family.

The Social Worker must continue to provide services to the family whilst the FGC is being co-ordinated.

The Social Worker and manager must decide before the FGC who will present information, answer questions, respond to the family's plan and agree resources.

Social Work Role at FGC

At the FGC the social work role is to:

  • Present information about concerns, resources and any baseline;
  • Answer questions about the above;
  • Respond to the family's plan giving reasons if it is not acceptable; and
  • Agree resources (the Social Worker's supervisor or manager must be contactable by phone).

Social Work Role Following FGC

Following the FGC, the role is to ensure delivery of the agreed plan and to participate in a review if the family ask for one.

Rights of the Family

FGCs are a way of empowering a family to take decisions about their children, subject to provisions for baselines about a child's safety. It follows that the family have certain rights in the process.

Once an FGC has been offered to a family and they have agreed, it must not be cancelled or withdrawn by the Department unless there are reasonably grounds to do so and in discussion with the family.

Similarly, if a family wants to review the plan made at an FGC, the Social Worker should agree to this and attend and give any necessary information.

The timing of an FGC will be agreed by the co-ordinator with the immediate family and the Social Worker. To enable the attendance of family members it can sometimes be appropriate to hold FGCs in the evenings or at weekends. Time off in recognition of attendance should be negotiated with the Team Manager.

End