Family Group Conference

About the program
Family Group Conference (FGC) is an innovative method for working with children and families in a crisis situation. On the one hand, its appearance is connected with the crisis in the sphere of social work in the country in this period, on the one hand, with communal traditions of Maori tribes. Maori considered the child’s welfare as an integral part of the family’s welfare, and the notion of a “family” included both parents and the whole family clan. In those years a great amount of Maori children were brought up in institutions: specialists ignored the help of the immediate circle for family members in a difficult life situation. The creation of a new system that could recognize and take into account Maori’s traditions, values, beliefs in the process of decision-making concerning the children and the family was required.

In 1989, a “Law on children, youth and family” was adopted. It emphasized the importance of the family and cultural heritage in resolving the issues of children upbringing. This law claims that the child welfare is a personal issue, not a public one. The law also admits that a family includes a wide range of relatives: it is supposed that specialists should engage the immediate circle to make a suitable decision concerning the child.

After the establishment of Family Group Conference (FGC) in New Zealand in 1989 according to the “Law on children, youth and family”, the interest to this innovative approach to social support for children, children protection and teenager-friendly justice grew. Research projects were developed on the local level in order to work out a decision-making methodology. The usage of the “family group conference” method is legally registered in such countries, as New Zealand, in some states of Australia (South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland), in the Republic of Ireland. Family group conferences are stated as a leading international practice in Great Britain, Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, many states of the USA, and Israel. The method is actively used in Spain, Slovakia, Poland, South Africa and other countries on all the continents.

The method has different names in different countries: a family effort conference, a family group conference, family group meetings, a family group consultation, a family council.
There are several names, but the idea uniting all the countries is the same: the family is the only legal host of this process.

The goal in the framework of this project is prevention of family problems, social orphanhood, neglect and crimes committed by minors, support to families and children in a difficult life situation as well as to develop the child’s abilities to overcome difficult life situations by means of the cooperation with his / her immediate circle, i.e. the family.
The method “Family Group Conference” corresponds to the ethic principle according to which a person is responsible for his / her actions, meanwhile respecting personal views of family members concerning the ways of problem resolving.

FGC implementation area
The technique of this method can be easily adapted in many spheres; the implementation area is wide and includes conflict resolving in a family, at school, at work.
This method allows using an individual, differentiated approach to solving crisis situations:
- parents’ divorce (the issue of children’s residence, documental issues, treatment);
- the problem of mutual understanding between parents and children;
- drug abuse and committing offence by teenagers;
- family violence;
- conflicts;
- leaving home;
- difficulties with children adaptation in foster families;
- problems in the family during adopted children stay;
- the period of preparation and adaptation to responsible life after living in a foster family (a foster home or an orphan boarding school).

The success in using FGC during working with children aroused interest to the usage of this approach in other cases, such as mental disturbances in adults, family violence to adults, in providing services and protecting the rights of the elderly.

The main characteristics
Family Group Conference is a kind of a family council, a meeting of all the family members to discuss the present situation and make independent decisions. It is an opportunity for planning together with the family. The process of a family group conference includes the nearest relatives and other people important for the family who can make a contribution into the planning of the future welfare, care, and protection of children.
FGC has two sources: the family and specialists.

The goals of the family group conference are:
- To adopt plans that are safe and appropriate for children.
- To urge family members to participate actively in the planning of childcare and child protection.
- To study the possibilities inside the family, the society and the professional organizations.
- To support the partnership between families and professionals.
- To empower family members, giving them an opportunity to make plans corresponding to their children’s needs.

 FGC values include the following:
•    A person has the right to maintain kinship and cultural bonds throughout the life.
•    Every person belongs to the systems of the extended family and the society, both of which bring him up and are responsible for him.
•    Family members, not specialists, are the environment for care, protection, and welfare.
•    Family members know their history and use this information combined with the assistance provided by professionals by means of planning.
•    The active participation and the leadership of family members are necessary for the positive result; it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that there is no inequality between family members and specialists.
•    Family members have the right for respect from governmental institution representatives who need to take extra effort to respect the poor, socially excluded, marginal members of the society who lack access to services and resources.
•    The state is responsible for the detection, the assistance, and the strengthening of the family’s possibility to protect its members and take care of them.
•    The state is responsible for the protection of family members against unwarranted interference and for the strengthening of the family potential.

The FGC process
The FGC process is planned in detail and is followed-up in order to ensure the compliance with the FGC principles and that these principles are used in practice. The following five components are important for the compliance with the FGC principles.

European researchers Rob Van Pagee, Sveinung Horverak, Cecilie More, and Liv Shelderup single out the main characteristics of the family group conferences:

An independent leader is responsible for the meeting of family members with specialists from institutions. When it is necessary to make a principal decision concerning family members, a dialogue between family members and specialists takes place. An independent leader creates an atmosphere of openness, honesty and respect during this dialogue, emphasizing the importance of using “no pressure” practice by specialists. 

Specialists recognize family members as key partners and provide the family with the time and the resources for decision-making. Providing an independent leader with the time and the resources to find family members and train them (along with specialists from institutions) underlines the importance of family members in the adoption of effective plans and the importance of their role.

Family members have an opportunity to meet each other and discuss the received information in order to define their claims and plans. Providing the family with private time allows them to use their knowledge and experience in a known environment according to their ethical and cultural practice of decision-making. Recognizing the importance of family’s private time and making active steps to encourage family members to plan this time underlines the restrictions of specialists themselves; the family should adopt the best possible decision and plan.

The plan made by family members is preferred to all the other plans. Taking into account that the preference is given to the family as a leading partner, specialists emphasize their confidence in family members as partners in providing care and support to its members and help the family to develop its skills to do it.

The institution supports family members providing them with the necessary services and the resources to fulfill the plan agreed upon by family members and specialists. During the fulfillment of the plan specialists from institutions help family members by means of supporting them and facilitating the resource unification of the institutions and the society in order to support family members.

(2) Pagee R. Van. Family Group Conferenceing. Manual for Independent Coordinators. Eigen Kracht – Center for Restorative Action: Zwolle, the Netherlands, 2006. – p.10

“Family Group Conference” in Russia
At the conference of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child there was emphasized a broader use of FGC. In the framework of the CYAR program the FGC method is implemented in all the regions of Russia participating in the program.

The Russian-Norwegian project “Family Group Conference” was for the first time presented by the Representative Office of the humanitarian organization “SOS – Children’s villages Norway” in Murmansk region in 2004. Initially the project was implemented in Murmansk region, and since 2006 it has become the basis for the wide cooperation between the governmental bodies, the institutions, the civil society, and the people in St. Petersburg, Leningrad and Pskov regions, the Republic of Karelia. The organization’s activity in all the projects implemented in North-west Russia was aimed at the family strengthening by means of the implementation of the new technologies in order to support families with children in a difficult life situation.

In 2010 the Representative Office handed the project “Family Group Conference” over to the Non-state educational institution of further education for adults “Development Center of Family Hosting for Children”. The founder of the center is a Russian committee “Children’s SOS-villages – Russia” (Moscow). The acquaintance of the Russian specialists with the new technologies will facilitate the outlook broadening, the change of the social opinion. No doubt, the new knowledge will have a positive effect on lives of participants themselves.

The implementation of the method “Family Group Conference” into the work of specialists assisting families in a difficult life situation should be continued so that an innovative method “Family Group Conference” could gradually be introduced into practice in the specialists’ work along with other methods on decision-making, and this process should be systematic.

Contact details

Nikolay Slabzhanin
Executive Director
Russian Committee of the
“Children’s SOS-villages”
Russia, Moscow, 117292, ul. Kedrova, 5, building 1
tel: + 7 495 7189918
fax: +7 499 1257622

Irina Khanasyuk
Project Coordinator, “Family Group Conference”
tel: +7 815 2 683167
mob: + 7 911 331 6983
Zilia Malysheva
Director, NOU “Development Center of Family Hosting for Children”
Russia, 183025, Murmansk, Polyarnye Zori, 31, building 1
tel / fax: +7 815 2 44 11 31
mob: + 7 921 513 52 54