Over 2000 children per year could avoid the care system through Family Group Conferences

13th June 2023

Over 2000 children per year could avoid going into care and instead safely remain with their families if Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are rolled out across England, findings published today by Foundations – the What Works Centre for Children & Families, suggest.  

FGCs are not currently always offered in the UK before a child is taken into care and uptake of them is varied. As a result of these findings, Foundations recommends that FGCs are provided for all families before care proceedings (the process of applying to the Family Court for a care order to remove the child from their family to keep them safe) begin. Not only would this enable families to stay together, but Foundations also estimate it could also save more than £150m within 2 years. 

The study, carried out by Coram and the first of its kind in the UK, found that children whose families were referred for an FGC before care proceedings began were significantly less likely to be in care twelve months after entering pre-proceedings (the stage before care proceedings, where parents or adults with parental responsibility are informed that the local authority will begin care proceedings if specific actions are not taken) than those whose families were not referred for an FGC. Over 21 months, the evaluation, the largest in the world, involved over 2,500 children across 21 local authorities in England and found that children whose families received the support of an FGC referral were less likely to go into care than those who were not. Among children in families referred for FGCs, 36.2% went into care, compared to 44.8% children in families not referred for FGCs. 

The study also found that families referred for FGCs were less likely to be taken to court for decisions about their care. By the end of the study, only three in five children (59%) referred for FGCs had care proceedings issued, compared with 72% of children who did not get a referral. 

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at Foundations, said: 

“Every effort must be made to enable vulnerable children to live safely within their family network before considering care proceedings. We now have evidence that Family Group Conferences, which empower families and children, have a higher success rate of keeping families together than going straight to care proceedings does. We encourage all local authorities throughout England to act on this high quality evidence that FGCs work to implement FGCs earlier. As part of our new strategy, Foundations will focus on getting the families who need it access to FGCs in the coming years.” 

Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, said:  

“The world’s largest RCT on Family Group Conferencing, this important research conducted by Coram has drawn upon the hard work of many hundreds of family members and professionals who took part. It shows the significant potential to help keep children and families together and could have a life-changing impact on generations of families to come.” 

Debbie Burns, Chief Executive Officer at Daybreak, said: 

“Daybreak has been facilitating Family Group Conferences since 1999 and has seen the amazing impact they have by harnessing the power of families and their wider networks to solve problems and proactively engage in decisions that affect them.   

“We are proud to have been a part of, and are delighted by the findings of, this research and hope to see FGCs in their truest form embedded in all Local Authorities. This could make a difference to thousands of children each year, keeping them safe within their families rather than entering the care system. We’d hope to see FGCs being used at earlier stages helping families develop plans that limit professional involvement in their lives.” 

You can read the Implications for Policy & Practice and full report here: https://foundations.org.uk/our-work/family-group-conferencing

Notes to editors 

  1. About Family Group Conferences (FGC): FGCs are meetings led by family members to plan and make decisions for children who are at risk. The FGC is organised by a co-ordinator, who invites immediate and extended family and friends, together with those working professionally and directly with the family, to the meeting at a neutral location. The aim of the meeting is to create and agree a plan to keep the children safe. 
  2. The study was the first ever Randomised Control Trial (RCT) of FGC in the UK and the largest in the world. Evaluation ran between September 2020 and May 2022 in 21 local authorities in England, and analysed data on 2,548 children in 1,471 families. 
  3. A Randomised Control Trial is an evaluation method where people are randomly assigned to programmes or service-as-usual. RCTs are often more able than other kinds of evaluation to say whether programmes, rather than other factors, are the cause of outcomes.   
  4. The evaluation was carried out by Coram’s Impact & Evaluation Team. 
  5. This report is part of the Department for Education’s Supporting Families: Investing in Practice programme and builds on work in Southwark and Wiltshire by the charity Daybreak as part of the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.  
  6. Daybreak trained and supported local authorities to deliver FGCs and also provided the FGCs in three of the local authorities as part of the programme. 
  7. This is our estimate based on 2,293 children being prevented from entering care per annum, at a net cost saved per child not going into care of approximately £66,963 
  8. The full report and implications document for policy and practice is available on our website here: https://foundations.org.uk/our-work/family-group-conferencing
  9. For further information please contact Francesca Morosini, 07773 647480 or communications@foundations.org.uk 

About Foundations, What Works Centre for Children & Families 

Foundations is the national What Works Centre for Children & Families. Foundations researches and evaluates the effectiveness of family support services and interventions, and generates the actionable evidence needed to improve them, so that more vulnerable children have the foundational family or other close relationships they need to thrive in life. 

Foundations was formed through the merger of What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) and the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) in December 2022. 

About Coram 

Coram is a UK children’s charity that has been supporting vulnerable children for nearly three centuries, and is still finding new ways to help children. Coram’s Impact & Evaluation Team carries out research and evaluation projects in partnership with public sector and third sector organisations, and also works across the Coram group of charities to help teams to evaluate their effectiveness. 

About Daybreak 

Over the past 20 years Daybreak has worked with families and social workers to safeguard around 20,000 children. Daybreak has developed a systematic and rigorous approach to ensure FGCs are well organised and have the best possible chance of reaching a successful conclusion. Daybreak has also pioneered the use FGCs in several new contexts.