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A guide to family group conferencing

What is a family meeting?

All families are unique, and come up against problems from time to time. Family Meetings are a way of supporting families to get together to discuss the issues, outline any worries and try and find solutions to the problems. The decision makers at family meetings are family members, and not those who work with them… It is about families being in charge of their lives.

A facilitator will help you arrange your family meeting. They are an ‘independent facilitator’ independent means that they are there to support you and will not be involved in making decisions about your family. During a Family Meeting, there is plenty of time for the family to meet alone.

Why have a family meeting?

We believe that when families are given the right information and support, they are very able to make the best decisions about their family. This is because we believe that nobody understands a family better than the people living in it.

We want to help your family make these decisions by offering all the necessary information and assistance you may need to come up with a plan.

What happens at a Family Meeting?

A Family Meeting will be held at a location that is convenient and comfortable for your family. The first part of the meeting will be led by the facilitator whose job it is to support the family to gather together at an agreed time and place. Firstly the facilitator will ensure that people who work with your family give you a clear and straightforward account of the issues and decisions to be made, and also what financial and other assistance could be available to help you and your family carry out any plans.

When you are ready, you will be left in private as a family, to talk things through together. If you need further information, the facilitator will always be on hand to help you with this. Your family may take some time to discuss the situation and decide on the best solution. There is no need to hurry. We will make your family as comfortable as possible and make sure there are things for the children to do, if necessary.

Families themselves may not always agree. If this happens, the facilitator will try to help the family come to an agreement.

What happens next?

When your family has worked out its decisions, the facilitator will rejoin you and go over the plan with you. If you require any help or support with finalising your plan the facilitator can help. This will help in making sure that those working with your family accept the plan.

The facilitator will then ask the lead professional to rejoin the meeting to agree the plan. Unless it is considered that the decisions and plans made by your family will put a young person in danger, the plan will be accepted and lead professionals will work with you to put the plan into action.

The facilitator will take the agreed plan away to type up and will send it to all whose who attended the meeting.

Do children and young people attend the family meeting?

Our view is that children and young people should always be invited to be involved in the Family Meeting. For a successful plan it is important that their wishes and feelings are taken into consideration by the adults. Families do usually include the children and young person in making plans, but if there are any real problems with this, the family can ask the facilitator to help.

What if I decide this is not for me, can I stop the process?

Yes, the process is totally voluntary.

Who should come to a Family Meeting?

Who comes to the Family Meeting will be different for each family. Some families maybe worried about certain relatives coming to the meeting. We should suggest that the best people to help a young person are nearly always their relatives.

Sometimes you will want family friends to attend, as they can feel more like family than relatives themselves. Any worries about who should attend can be discussed with your facilitator. In any discussions it is the needs and well being of the young person which is of greatest importance.

What about the cost of coming to a Family Meeting?

Children’s Services can help with things like transport, food and childcare. They will support you in the costs of coming to a Family Meeting.

What happens if Children’s Services do not agree with our plan?

Children’s services will only disagree with a plan if they think it will leave the child or young person at risk in some way. Where the plan is not accepted they will explain why. You may then decide to amend the plan or even hold another family meeting to change the plan.

What if things don’t get better?

A Family Meeting isn’t a magic wand. Everyone-you, your family and social worker- has to try their best to make the plan work. Often a second meeting in a few weeks or months time is a good way to see how it is going.