In Medway, we're committed to keeping children and young people connected to their families, and ensuring that families are central to decision-making.
We aim to work with the family and friends’ network to gain the best outcomes for children and young people.
A family group conference is a family-led meeting where the family and friends' network come together to make a plan for a child.
The process is supported by an independent coordinator who helps the family prepare for the family group conference and chairs the meeting.
Children are usually involved in their own family group conference, often with support from an advocate.
It's a voluntary process and families cannot be forced into one.
When a family group conference can happen
A family group conference can be used when any decision needs to be made about any aspect of a child’s life.
The earlier a family group conference takes place, the more likely it can help to stop problems getting worse.
When there are child protection concerns, children’s services might consider it is not safe for a child to be at home. In this situation, they should work with families to explore other safe options. This includes exploring whether a child can live safely with someone else in their family and friends’ network. This means it's important to involve wider family at an early stage.
A family group conference can be an extremely useful way of doing this and Medway is committed to ensuring families are offered a family group conference at the earliest opportunity.
How a family group conference is set up
A family group conference coordinator will contact you after a referral from your child’s social worker.
An independent coordinator is then appointed. Their job is to help the family plan for their family group conference. They help families to think about the plans and decisions that need to be made.
Coordinators are neutral. This means that they'll:
- not influence a family to make a particular decision
- be independent from any social worker from children’s services that may be working with the family.
Family group conference coordinators do not attend any professional meetings such as child protection conferences and core groups.
Before the family group conference
Before any family group conference, the independent coordinator will:
- help the family identify the important people to invite to the meeting. This goes beyond birth family and can include:
- extended family
- other significant relationships, such as neighbours and church groups
- visit all key family members in person or call them, including the children the plan will be about
- talk to all those who will attend the meeting, both family and professional, to explain what the meeting will be like
- help the family to identify what they might want to put in their plan
- offer an advocate for someone who may not feel able to participate themselves or get views by phone, video or in written form from family members who cannot attend
- arrange the meeting including time, venue, transport, childcare and refreshments.
Do not worry if there is conflict in your family. The coordinator is trained to manage tension and will work with you and your family to make sure any meeting is safe.
At the family group conference
A family group conference has 3 stages, which include:
- information giving time - the relevant professionals give the family the information they need to make plans, such as their worries and what help they can offer
- private family time - the family network will be left alone to write the plan based on the information they have heard. If you need support to write the plan, let the coordinator know
- agreement time - at the end of the meeting the social worker comes back to the conference to talk to the family about their plan and what the next steps will be.
During the family group conference the coordinator will:
- make sure the meeting is safe by setting clear ground rules
- ensure the child or young person is comfortable and their voice is heard and is contained in the plan
- intervene and refocus the meeting where necessary
- maintain safety at the meeting, even if this requires adjourning or stopping the meeting completely
- make sure the family feel safe during the meeting. This might mean having separate meetings or breakout rooms where people can go if they feel cross or upset
- remain available for the family during private family time
- help the family to present their plan. This includes clarifying any unclear points and identifying any unmet needs of the child or young person that might compromise their safety.
The family agree how the plan will be monitored and if it will need to be reviewed.
The family say who they would like the plan sent to, for example a solicitor or a special guardian.
After the family group conference
After a family group conference, the coordinator will:
- circulate the plan as agreed at the family group conference
- record the plan on the children's files.
The social worker will help the family implement the plan as agreed at the family group conference.
Get in contact
For further information, contact Clare Goldsmith by:
- phoning 07845 015 742
- emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can contact the Family Rights Group which offers further advice and support. You can either:
- phone their free advice line telephone on 0808 801 0366
- visit the Family Rights Group website.