Knowsley Children’s Social Care has been chosen by the Department of Education along with a number of other Local Authorities across the country to run a pilot looking at how Family Group Conferences can benefit children and families who are subject to Pre Proceedings Plans and are at risk of going to court. The pilot starts on 1st October and will run until November 2021. Knowsley will be working with Daybreak, a leading organisation who specialise in Family Group Conferencing and Coram, a children’s charity who will be evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot. The hope is that if the pilot is a success, FCGs will be rolled out as a practice model in all Local Authorities.

Family Group Conferences were first developed in New Zealand in the 1980s and are based upon traditional Maori decision-making practices. First introduced in the UK in Hampshire in 1991, they are also now regularly used as a model in Australia, Canada, the US, Sweden, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Denmark and South Africa. Family Group Conferences help families to develop their own plans for children and make their own decisions. Often this is when children can no longer live safely with a parent/carer or when families need more support from their wider networks. The key values of FGC are empowerment, mutual respect and valuing difference.

Research shows that family are more likely to come up with good plans for children using the FGC model and that extended family placements tend to be more stable. Professionals often feel children are more protected by plans from FGCs and there is a reduction in re-abuse rates. Fathers and paternal relatives are also more involved in plans for children.

Families will be offered Family Group Conferences once it has been decided at a Legal Planning Meeting that a Pre Proceedings Plan is required. Families will then be provided with information about the process. It is hoped that families will be able to recognise that there are benefits to engaging. Children and young people will also be encouraged to participate.

Social Work Teams will be briefed further in October and November. But if you would like more information about Family Group Conferences and how they work or more details about the new pilot, then contact Anna McLaughlin, Knowsley’s Family Group Conference Co-ordinator at FamilyGroupConference@knowsley.gov.uk