A family group conference is a formal meeting for family members to talk about what can be done to make sure their child or young person is safe.
The family is asked to be involved in making plans for the child and to consider the issues raised by Child Safety Service.
Why have a Family Group Conference?
Family group conferencing was introduced to Tasmania through the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1997 (CYPF Act 1997). The CYPF Act 1997 is the key piece of legislation covering child protection issues in Tasmania. The Act states that there are certain circumstances under which a family group conference must be convened.
Family group conferencing is a way of planning for a child’s future and reviewing past decisions.
Family group conferences allow families to have their say and to meet in private to develop their plan.
Family members, and professionals who have participated in family group conferences before, say that they are a good way of working together in the best interests of children and young people.
Who organises the Family Group Conference?
Child Safety Service are responsible for delivering the Family Group Conference Program in Tasmania. Family group conferences are organised by trained professionals called facilitators. Facilitators are independent of Child Safety Service.
What is a Facilitator and what do they do?
The facilitator is responsible for making sure that everyone at the conference focuses on what is in the best interest of the child or young person. The facilitator ensures that the participants are provided with enough information to make decisions about their child’s future. The facilitator will give everyone a chance to speak and does not take sides.
The facilitator has no authority over Child Safety Service or their resources. The facilitator is required to work in cooperation with Child Safety Service, the child/young person (if old/mature enough), their family and anyone else who attends the conference.
The facilitator does a lot of work before the conference talking to the child and/or their family about the circumstances that have led to the conference being called and about the particular difficulties they have encountered. It is important that the facilitator has a good understanding of all issues that may affect the family group conference process.
It is also the facilitator’s role to help the child and their family prepare for the conference and to find out what the family might need in order to feel comfortable at the conference. The facilitator is responsible for:
- organising the venue;
- inviting people to the conference;
- organising food and drink; and
- organising transport, child care, an interpreter or anything else that the family might need to participate in the conference.
The facilitator also guides participants through each stage of the conference.
The Stages of a Family Group Conference
What happens before a Family Group Conference?
The child protection worker will contact the child (if old/mature enough) and their family to talk about holding the conference. The family will be offered some choice about who they would like to facilitate their conference.
Once a facilitator has been chosen they will contact the family to invite them to the conference. Other people who may be invited to the conference include support people for the child and their family, significant others, foster carers and service professionals such as teachers, social workers, counsellors and psychologists.
The facilitator may also appoint someone to act as an advocate for the child. An advocate is someone who acts on behalf of the child or young person and who is able to represent their views.
In addition, if the child or young person is a member of the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community, the facilitator may invite a representative from an Aboriginal organisation to attend the conference.
Child safety officers are also required to attend family group conferences.
What happens at a Family Group Conference?
Part 1 – Introduction and Information Sharing
The facilitator asks participants to introduce themselves and to talk about their involvement with the child, young person and/or their family. Child safety officers will clarify the nature of their concerns and outline the minimum steps that the family need to take in order to ensure that their child is safe. They will also provide the family with information about possible supports. Other professionals at the conference provide information about their involvement with the family and the potential supports they can offer. If the child is not at the conference or is not confident enough to speak, their advocate may speak for them. Family members are encouraged to ask questions. The facilitator makes sure that the family understands what safety issues or risks they are being asked to address in their plan.
Part 2 – Private Family Time
The facilitator and those who are not part of the family (or close friends) will leave the room and give the family time to share ideas and come up with a plan for how they can best meet the needs of the child or young person. The child may also leave during this stage of the conference if
they are likely to become distressed. The child’s advocate may remain if this is what the child and/or their family want.
However, the family may request that the facilitator remains behind during “family time” if they are concerned about safety or need help writing their plan.
The family may take as long as they need to develop their plan.
The facilitator and child protection workers will remain close by in case the family need their assistance and/or have any further questions.
Part 3 – Discussion of the Plan
When the family is ready, the facilitator will bring the group back together to hear the family’s plan for the child. The family’s plan must be approved by either a Child Protection Manageror by the Children’s Court. The child protection workers at the conference will explain to the family who needs to approve their plan. After the conference, everyone will be sent a copy of the family’s plan. The facilitator will also give everyone who attended the conference a feedback form.
What happens after the Family Group Conference?
The family should speak to their child protection worker if they need to know what has happened to their plan after the conference.
Ideally, the family’s plan will be implemented as soon as is possible if approved by the Child Protection Manager and/or Children’s Court.
Sometimes the family’s plan is only partially approved. However, those aspects of the plan that were not approved can be negotiated and/or modified so that the plan can be implemented.
The child or their family may request another family group conference if their plan is not approved at all.
Requesting a Family Group Conference
The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1997 (CYPF Act 1997) states that a child or young person, or any two or more members of their family, may ask for a family group conference to review the care and protection arrangements.
The child and/or their family can ask their child safety officer to organise a family group conference at any time. Requests can be made in person, over the phone or in writing. The child protection worker will send the child and/or their family a ‘Request for Review’ form. The child and/or their family needs to complete this form and return it to the child safety officer as soon as possible.
The request will then need to be approved by a Child Safety Manager.
It is important to remember that a new family group conference may not necessarily change the circumstances or the child’s legal status.
Information for Children and Young People
You are the focus of the conference and every effort will be made to help you to feel comfortable. This conference is about helping you and your family to make plans that keep you safe. It’s your chance to have your say about where you live and your future.
You can choose a support person to go with you to the conference. However, if you are not comfortable speaking at the conference, or if you need help to express your ideas and opinions, you can ask an advocate to speak on your behalf. The advocate can also go to the conference on your behalf if you do not want to attend.
The facilitator will ask you if you would like to attend the conference and who you would like to invite. The facilitator can also make sure that people you find threatening or scary do not attend the conference.
You can ask for a family group conference to be held at any time if you are unhappy with the decisions being made about you.
Information for Families
The facilitator will invite those family members who will be most helpful to have at the family group conference. The facilitator may decide not to invite certain people to the conference if they threaten the safety of others.
The conference is about bringing everyone who cares about the child together to plan for his or her future. It is important to stay focused on the child’s needs during the conference and not on blaming others.
As a family member who has been invited to the conference, you have a right to:
- be fully informed about the family group conference;
- be offered some choice about who you would like to facilitate the conference;
- have someone whom you trust to accompany you to the conference as your support person;
- have your ideas, plans and suggestions taken seriously (unless they are impractical, don’t keep the child safe or are against the law);
- provide feedback about the facilitator and the conference; and
- request another family group conference to review existing care and protection arrangements for your child if you are unhappy with decisions made at the previous conference.
Information for Support People
The child or family member may like to have a person they feel comfortable with, accompany them to the conference as a support person. This person is usually someone from the child or family member’s immediate circle of support. For example, they could be a relative, a friend of the family, a neighbour, a youth leader, school social worker or teacher.
The facilitator will discuss the option of a support person attending the conference with each person invited to attend the conference.
The facilitator will meet with the support people before the conference to help them prepare for their role during the conference.
If you have been invited to attend a family group conference as a support person, your role will be to help the child or family member express their needs and wishes at the conference. If, during the conference, you feel that the child or family member is finding the process very difficult and not coping, you can ask the facilitator for a quick break so that you can talk privately to the person you are supporting and ask them if they need any help.
As a support person, you are not there to voice your own opinions, or to speak on behalf of the child or family member. You should remain as neutral and uninvolved as possible about the information that is being discussed.
Information for Professional Services
Other service providers who have been supporting the family may be invited by the facilitator to attend a family group conference. Their role at the conference is to talk about their involvement and to provide information about what supports they can offer the family in the future.
The facilitator may also invite service professionals who are not currently involved with the family to provide information about the supports they can offer. For example, a teacher or school principal may be invited to attend a conference where there are concerns about a child’s education.
Other service professionals such as counsellors, social workers, psychologists, doctors, and child and family health nurses may also be invited to attend a conference to talk about a child or young person known to them.
The facilitator and/or the child protection worker will meet with invited service representatives before the conference to prepare them for their role during the conference.
The Role of the Child’s Advocate
The facilitator may appoint an advocate for a child or young person for whom a family group conference is being held. An advocate is usually selected from the child’s immediate circle of support and is someone that the child feels comfortable with. The advocate may be a school social worker, teacher, youth worker or relative for example.
The role of the child’s advocate is more formal than that of the support person who does not speak on behalf of the child. It is the job of the child’s advocate to make sure that the rights of the child or young person are respected and that their views are heard at the conference. Only the child for whom the conference is being called is entitled to have advocate accompany them.
The child’s advocate undertakes the following activities:
- the advocate meets with the child or young person before the conference to assist them to identify their ideas, views and wishes;
- the advocate discusses the conference with the child and identifies any concerns that they may have, asks the child whether they would like to attend the conference and how they would like their views presented;
- the advocate attends the conference and speaks on behalf of the child to ensure that the child’s views are considered in any decisions that are made. The advocate may stay during ‘private family time’ if this is what the child and their family want;
- the advocate records decisions and any timeframes agreed upon by participants at the conference. This information is provided to the child and other significant people involved with their care, including the child safety officers attending the conference; and
- the advocate will have at least one follow up session with the child to ensure that the decisions made at the conference are being implemented.
The Role of the Child’s Legal Representative
Sometimes the Court appoints a lawyer to act as the child’s separate legal representative. The child’s legal representative would only attend the family group conference if there were legal proceedings before the Children’s Court already. This is the only time that a lawyer would be permitted to attend a family group conference.
The facilitator must invite the child’s separate legal representative to attend the family group conference. The facilitator will not appoint an advocate for the child if a separate legal representative has been appointed by the Court.
The role of the legal representative at the conference is to represent the child’s legal interests. The legal representative ensures that the conference remains focused on the child and that their best interests are promoted at all times.
After the conference, the child’s legal representative indicates to the Court whether they support the decisions made at the conference. Only a record of the agreements or decisions that were made at the conference will be given to the Court. Everything else said at the conference is confidential and will not be used in Court.
Information for Approved Facilitators
The information below designed to help facilitators in their role. It includes links to up-to-date information and templates for the FGC Program.
If you have any suggestions for further information that should be included, please contact the FGC contact in your area.
Information for Families Brochure
There is nothing more important than the safety and wellbeing of our children
What is a Family Group Conference (FGC)?
A FGC is a meeting where family members get together to help make decisions and plans about the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.
It is an opportunity for the people who care about the child, and sometimes the child themselves, to talk about what is working well, what is worrying them and what should happen in the future.
A FGC can be organised because the court, family members or the child has asked for one to be held, or because Child Safety Services think it will be a good way to move forward. Who organises a FGC? Child Safety Services make the referral for an FGC but the meeting is organised and run by an independent facilitator. The family can choose which facilitator they would like.
Who will support the child?
It is really important that children and young people have a voice so the facilitator will make sure they have their own advocate or support person.
This person will help the child to understand everything that happens and will help them to tell people their views.
Who will support the family? Parents and other family members coming to a FGC might want someone to support them and should talk to the facilitator about this before the FGC.
Parents and family members can request to have a formal advocate involved or can have someone else who they know and trust attend the meeting with them.
What happens before a FGC?
The facilitator will contact the child and their immediate and extended family members and invite them to the FGC.
The child and their family can make suggestions about when and where they would like to meet and what would make it comfortable for them.
The facilitator will invite Child Safety Services staff to the FGC and will sometimes also invite professionals from other services that have helped the family or child before or who could help them in the future.
The facilitator will talk to everyone before the conference to make sure that everyone can be safe. This can mean that some people can’t attend on the day or that the meeting is arranged so that not everyone is in the same room together at once.
What actually happens at a FGC?
A FGC has three parts:
Part One – Introductions and information sharing
The facilitator will explain why the FGC has been called and introduce everyone.
Child Safety Services staff will give a summary which will include four key questions:
- What are we worried about in relation to the child and the family?
- What is working well in the family?
- What needs to happen to make sure the child
is safe in the future?
- How safe is the child, from zero (very dangerous for the child) to ten (the child is safe)?
The facilitator will ask everyone for their ideas about the situation and what support they can offer as part of the plan.
The facilitator will make sure that everyone has a chance to ask questions and will sum up what has been discussed.
Usually everyone takes a short break and has something to eat and drink before the next stage.
Part Two – Private time
The facilitator and the people who are not part of the family will leave the room. The family stay together to share ideas and come up with a plan about how they can support each other to meet the needs of the child.
Sometimes children and advocates and support people can stay for this part of the FGC.
The facilitator and people from Child Safety Services will stay close by in case the family has any questions or needs other help. When family members are ready, the facilitator will bring the group back together to hear the family’s ideas and suggested plan.
Part Three – Discussion of the plan
The family presents their plan for the future care of the child to the facilitator and to Child Safety Services staff.
Although everyone at the FGC can agree, all plans have to be approved by a senior manager at Child Safety Services and some might need to be approved by the Court.
At the end of the FGC everyone will be given a copy of the plan that was made and the facilitator will make sure that everyone understands what needs to happen next.
If the family can’t agree on a plan, the facilitator reports this back to Child Safety Services and case planning
continues as normal.
Things that are said or how people act at the FGC will not be used in Court. Only a record of the agreements or decisions of the FGC will be given to the Court.
Child Safety Services, Telephone: 1300 737 639
Family Group Conferencing Contacts
If you are interested in becoming a facilitator or require additional information about the Family Group Conference Program, please call the contact in your region:
Program Support, Learning and Development
Children and Youth Services
Level 4, Carruthers Building, St Johns Park
NEW TOWN TAS 7008
Telephone: (03) 6165 7990
St Johns Park
NEW TOWN TAS 7008
Telephone: 1300 737 639
49 Cattley Street
BURNIE TAS 7320
Telephone: 1300 737 639
115-119 Cameron Street
LAUNCESTON TAS 7250
Telephone: 1300 737 639