Family Group Conferencing Online

Delivering online and socially distanced Family Group Conferences – sharing learning from Harrow

Published: 15/09/2020

Author: TK Vincent

A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a family led decision-making process that enables an informal support network to collectively make safe plans for the future. Sharing good practice in respect to risk assessing social distanced FGCs, and those with both physical participants, and a technological element such as video conferences, has become more important during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘May your life be interesting’ is considered a potent curse in Chinese culture and I am certainly hoping that the second part of 2020 is considerably less exciting than the first half! Since England’s lockdown on the 23 March 2020;

  • connection
  • sharing good practice
  • creating and maintaining support networks

have increased in importance in enabling resilience in the face of unprecedented, collective and trauma directed change. Being in a leadership role in such times can be a lonely place and it occurred to me that if several experienced managers in London were seeking support and information on how I was delivering my Family Group Conference (FGC) Service remotely, the rest of the UK may also be struggling or seeking reassurance. I immediately created a weekly support group for FGC managers to enable everyone to access a safe space for peer support, to share information and good practice.

Just as we all got comfortable with remote working, predictably, change was again on the horizon. Some services were asked to deliver face-to-face socially distanced FGCs (SDFGCs), or to provide a hybrid model (HFGC) that has both physical attendees and a video conferencing element as early as July 2020. Creating a robust risk assessment for something as complicated as an FGC for a socially distanced or hybrid meeting was a Herculean task. I felt that, regardless of one’s actual expertise, no one manager should be asked to do it alone. Also, with 24 local authorities who have committed to completing a randomised FGC trial in 2020, many of whom were new to the model as a practitioner, it seemed to me that we needed to provide collective expertise. I was determined to do something about it!

Action taken

While I felt like I should take personal action, I sought a co-constructed solution. Through my support group, my links to London FGCs managers and being a board member of The London Consortium Accredited Partnership (LCAP), I was able to organise two video conferencing consultations that involved over 50 FGC managers and coordinators across 15 Local Authority FGC Services, two private organisations and the Consortium.

Through the use of virtual breakout rooms, we were able discuss in small groups before coming back together as a whole, the following risk assessment areas and practical topics in respect to hosting a SDFGC or HFGC. This included:

  • Childcare needs.
  • Cleanliness standards.
  • Current issued guidance from NHS and the British government.
  • Diversity, inclusion and other participation issues.
  • Expenses, payments and receipts.
  • FGC kit (additional) and personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Ground rules (additional).
  • Health questionnaires and declarations.
  • Holding meetings outside versus inside.
  • How to determine who will physically attend and who might attend virtually.
  • Hygiene protocols.
  • Local issues and infection rates.
  • Managing conflict.
  • Rules for consideration for referral acceptance.
  • Technological considerations.
  • Travel issues.
  • Venue considerations.

With this information, I approached two of my colleagues, Jo Collard (Somerset) and Hina Patel (Croydon) to co-author the collation of these consultations into a good practice guidance. In order to ensure that the document was fit for its purpose, it was peer reviewed by three experienced FGC managers, several senior managers in Harrow, and consultations were made to Health and Safety Officers in multiple boroughs.

Family Group Conferencing guidance

We’re sharing our guidance for SDFGCs and HFGCs for those in this field so that:

  1. FGCs held during times of COVID-19 are as safe as we can make them.
  2. Ensure consistency during risk assessments.
  3. Provide a sense of connection and support for those who may feel they are working without support
  4. Prevent repetition of work.

Next steps and concluding thoughts

I hope to follow up the guidance with supplementary work sharing examples of SDFGCs and HFGCs in practice, so we can highlight what was deemed to be important, and what needs further consideration.

In retrospect, it occurred to me that this process was not dissimilar to a virtual FGC. Stakeholders were asked to work with a referrer to identify the areas of concern and design a solution. Collectively we were able to empower each other to create a plan to keep those who are vulnerable safe. We’ve come full circle and I could not be more proud.

View the Guidance Of Good Practice Relating To Social Distanced And Hybrid Family Group Conferences

View the What is a family group conference for adults? Brief Guide.

TK Vincent

TK Vincent

TK Vincent is Harrow Council’s Family Group Conferencing Manager. She is passionate about FGCs, restorative justice, systemic practice and human rights based social work.