Keeping children out of care: In conversation about where next for Family Group Conferences

Keeping children out of care: In conversation about where next for Family Group Conferences

This week, we welcomed colleagues from across the sector to an event exploring the next steps in ensuring that all families can access a high-quality Family Group Conference at pre-proceedings. In this blog, our Chief Executive Dr Jo Casebourne shares her reflections on the event.

We now have compelling evidence that Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are able to keep children out of care and living safely at home with their families, and this week we were delighted to bring together key voices in the sector to start a vital conversation about how we can support local areas to offer high-quality FGCs to all families at pre-proceedings. Foundations was joined by David Johnston MP, Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children & Families, Alex Ryan, FGC Service Manager at Gloucestershire County Council, Tim Aldridge, Executive Director of Children and Learning at Camden Council, and Lucy Butler, Director of Children, Young People and Learning at West Sussex County Council.

In July, we published findings from our landmark study showing that the use of FGCs at pre-proceeding stage can keep children out of care, and safely with their families. The randomised controlled trial (RCT) shows that children whose families were referred for FGCs were significantly less likely to go into care – just over a third of children (36.2%) whose families were referred to an FGC were taken into care, compared to nearly half (44.8%) of children who were not referred. Our findings suggest that if FGCs were consistently available at pre-proceedings, over 2,000 more children could remain safely with their families each year, and over £150 million could be saved within the first two years.

FGCs are used widely across England, but we know there is a huge variation in the extent to which they are delivered and too many families are not able to access them. We have been told of differences in the hundreds between how many FGCs are run in different local authorities and many FGC services have been scaled back due to funding and other challenges. We want to see families receiving an excellent family group conference in all 153 local areas across the country, and our event was a key step in working out how we can make that happen.

We also know that FGCs are not being delivered consistently. Despite the best intentions of local authorities, some families receive a poor quality, or rushed, conference that doesn’t meet the standards needed to ensure the best possible chance of positive outcomes for children and families. Through conversations at this week’s event, we were able to think in greater detail about questions of ensuring consistency and model fidelity in relation to FGCs, drawing on the depth of expertise in the room.  

A particular focus for the panel was the importance of ensuring that children are at the heart of what we do in this area. Our conversations identified a need to ensure that both the language we use is sensitive to the lived experience of children and families, and that the services provided work for all children. It was clear that more needs to be done to identify the specific needs of families, particularly considering the challenges faced by those from minoritised ethnic backgrounds. There is a clear lack of evidence around the experiences of minoritised ethnic groups in relation to FGCs and it was great to hear from a delegate who was currently carrying out research on this exact issue. At Foundations, we are committed to addressing these gaps in the evidence base and improving our understanding of what works for all vulnerable children.

We are working with Department for Education and others to ensure we act on our study and help children stay out of care and with their families. Minister Johnston confirmed the government’s commitment to helping achieve this goal in his speech on Tuesday evening, describing increased use of FGCs as an important part of the Department’s plans. We were encouraged by the quality of the debate, critical discussion of key issues, and by the shared commitment in the room to supporting all local areas to offer high-quality FGCs at pre-proceedings.

We know there are different views about evaluation in our sector, but the FGC study has demonstrated that impact evaluation, and specifically RCTs, can help us find the best way to support vulnerable children and their families. Finding out what works is only the start and the event this week demonstrated that there is an open door to working with partners in Government and the sector to ensure that these findings turn into real-world change.

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