Follow-up evaluation of Family Group Conferences in pre-proceedings (2020)

We followed up a previous evaluation carried out under Round one of the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. We carried out interviews and analysed data to find out what happened next to child outcomes in Wiltshire and Southwark councils, after families received Daybreak Family Group Conferences.

Key messages

  • This evaluation followed up on the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme Round 1 project in which Daybreak, a charity, provided Family Group Conferencing (FGC) at pre-proceedings stage in two contrasting English local authorities, Southwark and Wiltshire. It illustrates the value, but also the difficulty of following up the longer-term outcomes of promising areas of practice. The previous mixed methods evaluation (Munro et al, 2017) found high satisfaction with FGCs among families, and some promising, but not definitive findings on outcomes. Overall, this is also what we found. Our findings support the continued use of FGCs by local authorities, while more evidence on their effectiveness is generated.
  • The evaluation aimed to evaluate an evolving project, as the ways FGCs are used have evolved over the last few years in Southwark and Wiltshire. Both local authorities offer FGCs earlier and more widely than in Round 1 within the child protection system (such as at Early Help stage). However, this could have resource implications at a time when local authorities have had to make savings. While Southwark and Wiltshire remained committed to delivering FGCs, both delivered them to a smaller number of families in 2018-19 (14 and 36 respectively), compared to during the Innovation Programme funding in 2015-16 (33 and 50).
  • Both our quantitative data analysis and qualitative interviews were inconclusive on which families take up the offer of an FGC and why. Larger-scale future research should investigate this, as it could help practitioners to improve take-up of the FGC offer and thus improve practice. This would also improve sample sizes for future research. Improving take-up should be a priority for the future.
  • We found FGCs can fulfil a useful role in allowing information sharing within the extended family network, and offer an opportunity to build relationships, both within the family and also between the family and social services. They can also offer families a certain level of control over the situation, and a space in which families can voice their opinions. However, these findings come from our interviews with family members who took up their FGC offer: we do not know the views of family members who declined.
  • Our quantitative data analysis produced some promising findings for FGC advocates. We found that FGC children compared to non-FGC children were more likely to live with birth families, and had more potential carers identified during pre-proceedings. However, more FGC children than non-FGC children were re-referred to children’s services after the end of pre-proceedings, and some other outcomes were worse for FGC children than non-FGC children. However, our evaluation design means that all these findings may be explained by any number of unknown pre-existing differences in the families, not the FGC itself. More robust and larger-scale evaluation is needed to draw firm conclusions on the impact of FGCs on child outcomes.