Groundbreaking Coram study demonstrates significant impact of Family Group Conferencing in preventing children going into care

  • 13 June 2023

Children whose families were referred for Family Group Conferencing (FGC) are significantly less likely to go into care, according to results from the world’s largest study of its kind, conducted by Coram and published today.

A young boy and woman play with a plastic green dinosaur.

The study, funded by Foundations – What Works for Children’s Social Care, was the first Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT)* of FGCs to have been carried out in the UK and the largest RCT of FGCs carried out in the world.

FGCs are meetings led by family members to plan and make decisions for children who are at risk, with the aim of creating and agreeing a plan to keep the children safe. The study 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.

Over 21 months, the evaluation 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, only three in five children (59%) referred for FGCs had care proceedings issued, compared with 72% of children who did not get a referral.

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 these 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. Based on the study’s findings about the likelihood of children referred for FGCs entering care, this is an estimated saving of £960 to local authorities per child in the first year, or £13,365 over three years.

Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, said: “Coram is at the forefront of developing solutions that offer children and young people a better future so we are pleased to deliver this important research which shows the significant potential of Family Group Conferencing to help keep children and families together. The study drew on the hard work of many hundreds of family members and professionals who took part. The insight gained will shape our understanding of how best to support families on the edge of the care system and could have a life-changing impact on generations of families to come.”

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at Foundations, said: “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. We encourage all local authorities throughout England to act on this high quality evidence that FGCs work to implement FGCs earlier. As part of our new strategy, Foundations will focus on getting the families who need it access to FGCs in the coming years.”

Debbie Burns, Chief Executive Officer at Daybreak, said: “Daybreak has been facilitating Family Group Conferences since 1999 and has seen the amazing impact they have by harnessing the power of families and their wider networks to solve problems and proactively engage in decisions that affect them. We are proud to have been a part of, and are delighted by the findings of, this research and hope to see FGCs in their truest form embedded in all Local Authorities. This could make a difference to thousands of children each year, keeping them safe within their families rather than entering the care system. We’d hope to see FGCs being used at earlier stages helping families develop plans that limit professional involvement in their lives.”

Read the full report

*A Randomised Control Trial is an evaluation method where people are randomly assigned to programmes or service-as-usual. RCTs are often more able than other kinds of evaluation to say whether programmes, rather than other factors, are the cause of outcomes. 

This report is part of the Department for Education’s Supporting Families: Investing in Practice programme and builds on work in Southwark and Wiltshire by the charity Daybreak as part of the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. Daybreak trained and supported local authorities to deliver FGCs and also provided the FGCs in three of the local authorities as part of the programme.