Families should be given more support to make decisions involving their children

New research for Children 1st and the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships highlights a life changing approach to child protection decision-making as Edinburgh hosts international conference.

Every child in Scotland should have a right to Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) before a life changing decision is made about their future says Children 1st after new research shows how it can turn around the lives of families whose children are at risk of being taken into care.

The research Reimagining Family Group Conferencing “Outcomes”, carried out by Dr Mary Mitchell at the University of Edinburgh, showed that an approach called Family Group Decision-Making (also known as Family Group Conferencing) can help reduce the need for social work services, strengthen families, improve child-protection decisions and result in better long term outcomes for both children and their families. 

The research, which investigated the long-term outcomes reported by family members whose children were at risk of intervention by social work, comes as an international conference takes place at Heart of Midlothian Football Club in Edinburgh on 3 October. Organised by members of Scotland’s FGDM national steering group including Children 1st, Edinburgh City Council, Glasgow City Council and Mary MacLeod, FGDM expert, the conference will bring together international speakers in the field with MSP Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People and Bruce Adamson the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland.

Family Group Decision Making was first pioneered in Scotland by Children 1st 20 years ago. The approach has declined in Scotland in recent years despite the positive outcomes it delivers for children and families and the resulting cost savings for services.

Edinburgh, one of only six local authorities in Scotland who have an established FGDM service, has seen a decrease in the numbers of children in the care system and an estimated annual budget saving of over £580,000 through the introduction of Family Group Decision-Making. Glasgow City Council FGDM service has saved an estimated £644 900 and West Lothian Council, whose FGDM service is provided by Children 1st, is demonstrating comparable savings in its first year of operation.

Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People said: “I welcome the findings of this research demonstrating the positive impact of investing in early intervention and family support services to prevent children going into care.”

Dr Mitchell commented: “The research found FGDM can contribute towards children and other family members being safer; improve family relationships; and enable family members to understand and meet each other’s needs. The research also showed that process matters to families; what professionals do and how they do it really matters to family outcomes in the longer term. FGDM can help the way family members and professionals work together to make positive changes for children and their families.”

Research participants reported that the time FGDM coordinators spent helping them prepare for the meetings helped to build relationships, hope and trust while also allowing for thorough risk assessments and safety planning. This can improve the safety of children and other family members and give both children and their families an increased sense of control of their lives.

One young person who took part in the research said: “It was just easier to air ourselves out and be like this is what I want, this is what I want.”

A Mum said: “I think if I hadn’t gone to the meetings and not learnt different ways to try and deal with situations I could have done one of the children harm. I really could have.”

A Dad said: “You could say stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily want to say when a social worker was there and stuff like that. It basically means that it is your plan. It is not a social worker saying well I think this should be here and that should be there.”

Mary Glasgow, Interim CEO at Children 1st, said: “We all understand that rallying round to support our family during a crisis can make the biggest difference. Where family ties are fractured, often because of trauma or adversity, this can be much more difficult. By taking a trauma-sensitive approach Family Group Decision-Making brings extended family together with professionals, to focus on how they can positively support children. The research shows that when grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and close friends are more involved in child care and protection processes this can result in children staying safely with their families, giving them a brighter future. It also builds the family’s confidence and strengthens their ability to manage future crisis and conflict if they arise.

“We’re proud to celebrate two decades of helping children and their families through Family Group Decision Making. We would like to thank Dr Mitchell for her time and dedication into this significant research. We hope that together with the conference this will prove the catalyst for Family Group Decision-Making to become a core element of child protection practice throughout every part of Scotland.”

Children 1st exist to prevent child abuse and neglect, to protect children and keep them safe from harm. The charities helps children in Scotland live in safe, loving families, build strong communities, supports survivors of abuse, trauma and other adversity to recover and works tirelessly to protect the rights of children. After helping over 10,000 children, young people and family members last year alone, Children 1st aims to continue their prevention, protection and recovery work across Scotland.


Additional information:

Eleven Family Group Decision Making examples were studied across five local government areas in Scotland. Each example includes the perspective of different stakeholders in the process including: looked after children, their parents and extended family (n=32), and professionals (n=28) involved with them.

Research briefing paper: Learning from Family Group Conferencing: Reimagining approaches and outcomes to child care and protection

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) began in New Zealand in 1989 as rights-based approach to bringing families together where there are concerns about child protection. The practice was such a success in New Zealand that the model was exported worldwide.

Scotland’s Family Group Decision Making National Steering Group includes local authorities, individual experts and third sector partners who are working towards FGDM becoming a mainstream method of decision-making used by all statutory, voluntary and community bodies in the country involved in the welfare, protection, health and education of children and vulnerable adults.