What is a family group conference?

Family Led Decision Making

A family group conference is a process led by family members to make decisions about a plan to care for a child, young person or other vulnerable family member who is at risk. Children and young people are usually participants at the conference, sometimes with the support of an advocate. It is a process that can get better outcomes than decision making led by authorities such as child protection as it taps into the resources of the entire extended family and wider network of professionals and friends who are able to assist.

What is the definition of family in a family group conference?

Who is considered family and who should be at a conference are things negotiated by the facilitator with the family. It might extend to family friends who are honorary aunties and uncles and extended family.  A cousin may attend as a support person for a young person.  In some cases some members of the family may not be invited either due to a requirement that they are excluded by a child safety authority or by other family members.

The facilitator will work with the family to help them decide who should be there, meet with all participants to explain the process, what the purpose is, the guiding questions and anything else they need to know to prepare for the day. Find out more about training to become a Family Group Conference Facilitator.  Family Group Conference Facilitator Training

The family group conference is in three parts.

  • In the first part of the meeting the family members meet with social workers and other professionals who talk about their concerns for the vulnerable family member and what support they are able to provide. Then there is a meal shared by all participants.
  • After that is family time where the family members are left alone to make their own plan for the child. The family group conference facilitator will have helped them with “guiding questions” such as “Where will Tommy and Nikki live?” and any bottom lines imposed by authorities such as a certain person they can’t live with. The facilitator may come in and out during the session but they will not be facilitating it or being the scribe for the plan. The purpose of this process is to empower the family not to lead them.
  • The final stage is presenting the plan to the professionals who have remained waiting outside. Depending on the level of involvement of child protection or other authorities they may have the power of veto but the intention is that they support the plan if at all possible.
After the day of the conference there should be ongoing support and a scheduled review of the plan after a period of time.

Family Group Conferences are now the preferred approach to making decisions for children who are in need of out of home care in NSW. It is especially relevant for indigenous families where only the family understands the complex kinship relationships and capabilities of family members. The process is used in more than 20 countries throughout the world.

Family Group Conferencing has been shown to be cost effective and successful in making safe plans for children which allow many to stay within their family network as an alternative to going into the foster care system.

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What is a family group conference?

by Joanne Law time to read: 2 min