In family life there are always disagreements, but sometimes children and families face problems they can't seem to resolve, and this can be upsetting for everyone. Family group conferences are a type of meeting where children and their families are invited to talk about what is happening in the family and how to sort out their problems by making a plan.
Why you might want a family group conference?
Different families face all kinds of issues - and talking them through like this can really make a difference. These are some examples of the things families meet to talk through –
• problems caused by divorce or separation
• getting back in touch with a child in care
• worries about a child's safety
• helping a child fit back into their family after time away
• helping an adult look after a child - such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister
• worries about a child not going to school
• helping a parent with physical or mental disability
Who sets up the family group conference?
A convenor sets us the conference for you. This person comes to visit you, your family members and other people involved to make all the arrangements about where and when to meet. The convenor also speaks to any professional people working with you, like social workers, and makes sure they tell you about any worries they have about you or your family.
What happens during a conference?
The start of the meeting is preparation time - your convenor explains what to do and the things that can and can't go into your plan. The convenor then leaves you in private as a family to talk things through together, for as long as you need. Your convenor is on hand if you need anything, but they do not come in unless you invite them. They will make things as comfortable as possible and make sure there are things for the children to do if necessary.
You can use the time to talk and come up with a plan for how to make things better. When the meeting ends you give your plan to the convenor. It is then typed up within three working days and a copy is given to everyone who was at the meeting.
If you are worried about being left alone
You are the people who know yourselves best, and can help yourselves with the skills and experience you have. Your convenor explains everything to you before and during the preparation time, so that you can work together on your plan. If you really need them, your convenor is just outside where you can get them.
If you can't agree
You find that most families do reach an agreement and can plan to make their situation better. If you have trouble agreeing, the convenor will try to help you. Taking a 'time out' can help things, and we always have other people in the building who can help.
If you feel upset
Before the meeting, your convenor works with you to think of the things that might make you upset and how to avoid them. You might want to bring someone along for support, like a friend or relative. You can ask for someone to speak on your behalf - this is called an advocate. We have advocates we can introduce you to, or you could ask a friend to be your advocate.
We can also arrange a smaller meeting first, so everyone can get used to it - this can be helpful when people have not seen each other for years and think it might be upsetting. Ask your convenor if you want to do this. You can also take a break from the meeting if you want to.
If you are concerned that they will talk about things in front of the child
If the things you are going to talk about will be upsetting for the child then we will arrange for someone to look after them in another room. It could be that the child already knows about the issues and doesn't find them distressing. The child's feelings are the most important thing to us so we will make sure they are taken care of.
The length of the meeting
For as long as you need it to. You get to tell us when you are ready to finish and invite the convenor back into the room. You will be able to make drinks, stop to eat or have a break if you want to. You can also break off into smaller sub-meetings.
Children are part of the family network, so they normally go to the meeting unless it would not be appropriate. We can arrange to look after children in another room if required.
How to get there
We can arrange transport for you if you need it.
The presence of the social worker
This depends on your situation. Sometimes the social worker will be there for the start of the meeting - after that they would stay outside with the convenor and be on hand to answer any questions that might come up.
How to arrange a conference
To arrange a conference you can ask your social worker or other organisations you're working with. You can also contact us yourself directly by calling an Early Help Locality Hub
North Locality Hub – 01482 828901
East Locality Hub - 01482 708953
West Locality Hub – 01482 305770
If you are a professional wishing to request a Family Group Conference for a family you are working with, please complete the online form:
For information on the Early Help Hubs & Cluster Area Map access below