Limited Funding, Limited Services and still over 2000 children kept out of care.
New research by the UK charity Corum has found that over 2,000 children per year in England alone avoided long term care placements following a family group conference (FGC) in what was, the largest trial of its kind in the UK.
Offering all families with an FGC before they enter care proceedings could also save over £150m a year, according to the research by Foundations.
Key findings where:
Less likely to be in care one year later (36%) compared to those not referred (45%). This difference was statistically significant.
Had spent significantly less time in care 6 months later (87 days, on average) compared to those not referred (115 days, on average). However, this difference was not significant at twelve months.
Less likely to have had care proceedings issued (59%) compared to those not referred (72%) by the end of the reporting period. This difference was statistically significant.
Largest trial of FGCs using the Gold standard approach
The 21-month evaluation was the first in the UK to use a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test the impact of FGCs, and the largest such trial in the world, covering 2,548 children from 1,471 families across 21 councils.
The study ran from September 2020 to May 2022 and was funded through the Department for Education’s supporting families: investing in practice programme, which is designed to test promising interventions in children’s social care.
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.
The study evaluated the impact of FGCs at the pre-proceedings stage, when local authorities inform families that proceedings to take their children into care will follow unless they take specific steps to address assessed risks to children.
The 21 councils – none of whom were previously offering FGCs at pre-proceedings – randomly allocated half of families to receive an FGC (the intervention group), plus their usual services, and the other half just to receive usual services.
The study builds on previous evaluations showing promising evidence for FGCs, including of Leeds council’s family valued programme and charity Daybreak’s service for children on the edge of care, delivered in Southwark and Wiltshire. The Education Department released an evaluation in 2021 which concluded that FGC was much more effective when used for children at risk of care than the much vaulted Signs of Safety approach and Restorative Approaches better at engaging with familes. Read summary and access report
FGC has been used in the UK for over 25 years. Usually seen as a luxury service, it is often prone to closure at the whim of management either for budgetry cuts, lack of understanding and worse, the refusal to allow families to be part of the developing their own plan (we know best approach).
It is now time for Local Authorities to invest in Family Group Conferences and not as a money saving scheme but as a child centred approach that would significantly safeguard children and prevent stranger placements. The evidence is there it's the will that is lacking.