FGC Best Practice should be foremost in delivery
Foundations event to mark their groundbreaking study on the effectiveness of FGCs could prevent 2,000 children per year going into care but concerns about the impact of not adhering to preferred model were voiced strongly!
“The Family Group Conference model must not be diluted as the intervention is rolled out across children’s social care services”. That was the warning from experts at an event, organised by Foundation to mark the publication of a study that found using the FGCs approach with families at the pre-proceedings stage could prevent 2,000 children going into care each year, saving over £150m a year.
Children’s social care reforms
Alongside the research, commissioned by evidence body Foundations earlier this year, the Department for Education has proposed revising the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance to encourage the use of FGCs from early help onwards where there is a risk of a child being Looked After by the Local Authority.
And it will test the impact of using Family Group Decision Making at an early stage of a child’s involvement with social care as part of its children’s social care reform programme.
New children’s minister
The Children’s Minister David Johnston told the gathering that FGCs were a key plank of the government’s ambition to reduce the number of children going into care.
“I think Family Group Conferencing is so important and the evaluation confirms that it is reducing by significant proportion, the number of people going into care. [The cost savings] are not my primary concern. My primary concern is that in preventing them going into care they will have better outcomes as young people.”
The DfE’s chief social worker for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, said the Foundations-commissioned study was groundbreaking in so far as it used a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test the impact of FGCs.
RCTs are considered the gold standard method for testing the impact of an intervention and involve comparing outcomes between a group receiving the intervention and an otherwise similar control group that does not.
Referring to the study, Trowler said: “Nothing makes the Treasury sit up like an RCT. It gives confidence to the politician and the purse holders, but, critically, to local practice leaders.” She added, “In the past 10 years, we have had a step-change in the quality of evidence coming into our work and that’s holding us in much better stead for decisions about funding.”
Foundations chief executive Jo Casebourne reminded the audience that although although Family Group Conferences has been used in the UK since the early 1990’s, their coverage remains patchy.
Gloucestershire County Council’s FGC manager, Alex Ryan, advised fellow authorities to stick to the high standards of the model and not to cut corners to save on money.
She said, “[It was] the Maori in New Zealand who created this. It came for a reason, because their children were being disproportionately taken into care. The need to stick to the model is for values-based reasons – it’s about going from being professionals are the experts to the families being the experts…This makes sure that the family voice, their wisdom and experience stays at the centre of the discussion.”
Ryan particularly highlighted the importance of families having private time – without any professionals’ present – to develop their plan, adding: “The FGC model needs to be the FGC model because it has that private family time where they are not being pressured to do one thing or another. If we say we’re going to take them somewhere that is led by them, we cannot impose our agenda.”
Meanwhile, Camden council director of children’s services Tim Aldridge said that FGCs should be seen as one element in making the whole children’s social care system more collaborative with families. “There’s the scope for the whole system to be more collaborative and think about how it shares power with families,” he added. “We shouldn’t see family group conferences as a standalone but as part of a broader way of working with families.”