Safeguarding adults: Mediation and family group conferences
Family group conferences - The stages
Part 1: Information sharing
The first part of the FGC meeting is the information-sharing stage. The aim of this phase is to give the family a complete picture of the current situation and to confirm why the referral has been made. The meeting should be strengths based and solution focused. Family members are not asked to share information during this phase, although they may do this if they wish. They are strongly encouraged to ask questions and gain additional information and clarification.
During this part of the meeting:
- The FGC coordinator – as chair – manages introductions, clarifies the process and establishes ground rules.
- The coordinator explains what the concerns are and gives information on the resources available to help resolve the concerns. This could be done in the form of a short report, which should be shared with participants before the meeting.
- Other service professionals at the meeting should also give information on the resources they can offer to help resolve concern and on areas where the family have asked for clarification.
- The referrer and other service professionals should not offer specific advice or direction.
- The referrer and other service professionals must not ask the family to share personal information.
- The FGC coordinator should encourage the person and family to ask questions and gain additional information and clarification.
Part 2: Private family time
The second part of the meeting is the private family time. The coordinator, referrer and all other service providers or professionals leave the family alone to discuss the issues of concern, make decisions and develop a plan of action. The family discusses the needs of the vulnerable adult and begins formulating a plan to ensure their safety and wellbeing. An FGC is a family decision-making process and formulating an action plan is the responsibility of the family. Families must be given a chance to meet on their own without the FGC coordinator or staff from agencies present. Private family time is a defining feature of the FGC process and is necessary for family members to engage in open and honest discussion to develop an effective plan.
During this part of the meeting:
- Before leaving the room, the FGC coordinator needs to clarify the expectations of the family during private family time, including the writing of a Family Action Plan.
- The FGC coordinator, referrer and any other service professionals should leave the family alone to discuss the issues of concern, make decisions and develop a Family Action Plan.
- Professional supporters or advocates may remain with the family for a limited period of time (usually around 10 minutes) but must focus on supporting their identified adult.
- Informal supporters or advocates (often a friend or family member) will remain throughout private family time.
- The FGC coordinator and referrer must remain on site to answer questions about resources, funding for services and other information as requested by the family.
- The family should be encouraged to have private family time, even if there is a request for professional assistance initially.
- There must be recognition that in rare instances, it may not be safe or practicable to have private family time and someone may need to remain in the room.
- There should be no limit to the time that the family wishes to meet in private.
Part 3: Agreeing the plan
During the third and final part of the meeting, the FGC coordinator and referrer rejoin the family to discuss and agree the action plan the family has developed. This Family Plan should offer clear responses to the concerns identified in the first part of the FGC (The Resources section contains a FGC family plan form template from Daybreak). The emphasis is on mobilising the family network. The final part of the meeting is to check that all family members agree to their plan once the referrer is satisfied that it meets all of their concerns. The Family Plan is the only record of the FGC and should not be altered or amended at any point without consulting the family.
During this part of the meeting the FGC coordinator should:
- make sure that everyone is clear about the resources that will be available to them to fulfil the Family Action Plan
- invite the family to select a family member to monitor the progress and effectiveness of the plan and maintain good communication with the referrer (and FGC coordinator)
- offer the family a review FGC to help them monitor their plan (and a second review, if needed)
- type up the family’s plan, which must reflect the tone and intent of the family. Any modification to the plan must continue to meet the character and objectives of the original document. It should give details of each planning point (the what, who and when) and be clear to avoid ambiguity. This is particularly important if the referrer has to make the plan available to others who were unable to attend the FGC, or who are unfamiliar with the case (a manager or supervisor for example)
- send a copy of the Family Action Plan to all participants within five working days of the end of the FGC – this may include people who were invited but were unable to attend.
If the referrer has a statutory responsibility they must review the plan to ensure that it adequately meets the safety and protection needs of the adult. The referrer may approve the plan as it stands. If the referrer identifies any unmet concerns in the plan, the following procedure should be followed:
- The family should be given an opportunity to address these concerns and to revise the Family Action Plan. The family may choose to reconvene private family time to discuss these unmet concerns. Alternatively, the FGC coordinator may facilitate a discussion while the referrer is present to address these unmet concerns.
- If the referrer approves the revised Family Action Plan, steps 1 to 5 above should be followed.
- The referrer will not approve the Family Action Plan if it leaves the adult at risk of significant harm. If the family chooses not to address those concerns or to alter the plan, the referrer needs to explain what will happen next. For example, if the referrer is unable to agree the plan as it stands, it should still be written up as presented, with a statement added that the plan is not agreed by the referrer, and giving reasons.
Part 4: The review meeting
Review meetings are important to check what is working, celebrate success, address problems and make further plans. While most review meetings are scheduled for a particular point in the future, if there are problems the date of the meeting may be brought forward. This can be a helpful way of getting a plan back on track. Review meetings may include the same participants as the first meeting, or there might be slight changes to the group. Additional family members might attend a second meeting who were either unavailable for or hesitant about attending the first. These meetings tend to take less time and preparation than the initial ones as family members and service providers are familiar with the meetings.
The structure of the review meeting is similar to the original FGC meeting:
- There is a review of the plan developed at the initial FGC meeting. It is usual to invite the family to speak before the referrer to provide an update or to explain whether they think the plan is working, although there might be circumstances where the referrer presents first (for example where there has been a significant deterioration in the health of the vulnerable adult). Other service providers attending the meeting will also usually give an update.
- There is an opportunity for private family time. The family may decline this although discussions of a particularly sensitive or confidential nature should not take place in the presence of outsiders.
- Any revisions to the plan should be presented to and considered by the referrer. If the referrer has statutory authority, they must be in agreement with the revised plan and any further action the family has developed (The Resources section contains a FGC review plan template from Daybreak).
In most cases this will be the last FGC meeting arranged for the family. It is important that the family understand this, and agree with the referrer about how to continue monitoring the plan and dealing with any problems that occur. Standard safeguarding review procedures would also apply.
Distributing the plan
Once the FGC ends, the FGC coordinator will distribute the family’s plan to everyone present at the meeting, usually within five working days. Copies may also be sent to people who were invited but were unable to attend.
The plan should:
- reflect the tone and intent of the family
- provide detail of each planning point (‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘when’) (Daybreak 2011)
- be clear and comprehensible to avoid ambiguity.
This is particularly important if the referrer has to make the plan available to others who were unable to attend the FGC meeting, or who are unfamiliar with the case, for example a manager or supervisor.