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Over 2000 children per year could avoid the care system through FGCs, study suggests

A new study finds that children whose families were referred for a Family Group Conference before care proceedings began were significantly less likely to be in care twelve months after entering pre-proceedings.

14/06/23

Over 2000 children per year could avoid the care system through FGCs, study suggests

Over 2000 children per year could avoid going into care and instead safely remain with their families if Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are rolled out across England, a study suggests.

FGCs are meetings led by family members to plan and make decisions for children who are at risk. The FGC is organised by a co-ordinator, who invites immediate and extended family and friends, together with those working professionally and directly with the family, to the meeting at a neutral location. The aim of the meeting is to create and agree a plan to keep the children safe.

The study, published by Foundations – formed after the merger of What Works for Children’s Social Care and the Early Intervention Foundation – finds that FGCs are not currently always offered in the UK before a child is taken into care and uptake of them is varied.

As a result of the findings, Foundations recommends that FGCs are provided for all families before care proceedings (the process of applying to the Family Court for a care order to remove the child from their family to keep them safe) begin. Not only would this enable families to stay together, but Foundations also estimate it could also save more than £150m within 2 years.

Researchers found that children whose families were referred for an FGC before care proceedings began were significantly less likely to be in care twelve months after entering pre-proceedings (the stage before care proceedings, where parents or adults with parental responsibility are informed that the local authority will begin care proceedings if specific actions are not taken) than those whose families were not referred for an FGC.

The large-scale evaluation study was carried out by Coram and is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK. Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, said it was the world's largest randomised control trial on FGCs.

Over 21 months, the evaluation, the largest in the world, involved over 2,500 children across 21 local authorities in England and found that children whose families received the support of an FGC referral were less likely to go into care than those who were not. Among children in families referred for FGCs, 36.2% went into care, compared to 44.8% children in families not referred for FGCs.

The study also found that families referred for FGCs were less likely to be taken to court for decisions about their care. By the end of the study, 59% of children referred for FGCs had care proceedings issued, compared with 72% of children who did not get a referral.

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at Foundations, encouraged local authorities throughout England to implement FGCs earlier.

“Every effort must be made to enable vulnerable children to live safely within their family network before considering care proceedings.

“We now have evidence that Family Group Conferences, which empower families and children, have a higher success rate of keeping families together than going straight to care proceedings does.”

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