Family Group Conferences
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.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was significantly adjusted in January 2019 to reflect that more extensive use of Family Group Conferences (FGCs) is intended; families will be offered the chance to make plans for their children through a Family Group Conference whenever a significant decision has to be made, (including children who have been Section 20 accommodated). A table highlights the respective roles of all (potential) contributors (including the family) (see Merton's Priority Groups). A further table identifies the social work role (see Role of the Social Worker).
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:
- Initial Child Protection Conference;
- As a recommendation following completion of a Single Assessment;
- A decision that a child cannot return to her/his previous carers and that permanency arrangements are required;
- Registration of a child who is subject of a Child Protection Plan (the FGC will be invited to produce a plan that provides protection and enables or moves towards de-registration);
- Prior to a decision to initiate Care Proceedings;
- Where there is a risk of a child or young person becoming looked after under Section 20 arrangements;
- Identification of a need to implement key components within Looked After Children Care Plans.
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 or Police Protection 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:
- A family would benefit from additional support from their friends and family network to enable them to continue to care for their child;
- 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 have been difficult to engage;
- There are disagreements within the family about plans for the child;
- There are disagreements between family and professionals.
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 FGC can then, be modelled as follows:
- Stage 1: Referral - 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 Senior 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.
If the agreement to an FGC 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 cases and it may also be appropriate to take legal advice.
An FGC referral 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 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.
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. Information about resources from a range of agencies should be given.
The available financial support for family network placements must also be provided. 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.
Where the family may be considering how to support the child's immediate carers, information about local services from Children's Social Care and other agencies, including private and voluntary agencies should be provided and families should be sign-posted as to how these can be accessed.
If it is the view of Children's Social Care 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 looking after the child or young person remains the family's wish and is put into its plan, it is important that the reasons are listened to carefully and it will be appropriate to consult with senior staff so that consideration can be given to the family's view when making a decision about a child or young person's plan.
Role of the Social Worker
Prior to FGC
Complete any necessary assessment and based on this, inform the immediate family of concerns and of any 'baseline'.
Finalise FGC agenda with manager sign-off*.
Decide who will present information, answer questions, respond to the family's plan and agree resources.
Present information about concerns, resources and any baseline and answer questions.
Respond to the family's plan, giving reasons if it is not acceptable.
Agree resources (Social Worker's supervisor or manager must be contactable by phone).
Ensure delivery of the agreed plan and to participate in a review if the family ask for one.
* The finalised FGC agenda is required before the FGC Coordinator 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 Coordinator must be informed of any significant developments that affect the information going to the family.
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 Children's Social Care 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.