Welcome to the “Family and Community Group Conference Lived Experienced Practice Notes” blog series, brought to you by Kar Man and Tim. In this series, we will share our insights and experiences from  Family and Group  Conferencing (FGC).

Kar Man, a parent activist with lived experience of using FGC to plan for her future alongside her community, brings valuable insights as a research assistant and peer researcher at CASCADE, Cardiff University. She actively contributes to an NIHR-funded research project on Family Group Conferencing, working alongside Professor Jonathan Scourfield. Kar Man’s involvement extends beyond research, as she serves as a Lived Experience Advocate in the London Borough of Camden. Her dedication to social change through FGC, Peer Advocacy, and Co-Design models shines through her work.

Tim, a leading expert in facilitation and participatory methods, combines his 18 years of experience as a social worker with his extensive knowledge of empowerment models. As a service manager with LB Camden, Tim has facilitated over 100 FGCs in different communities in Wales and England, making him a seasoned practitioner in the field. His commitment to community inclusion and collaborative approaches is evident through his role as a Co-Investigator on the National Institute for Health Family Group Conference research project.

Through this blog series, we will explore the intricacies of FGC practice, community engagement, and the transformative power of relational activism. Join us on this journey as we look in detail  into innovative approaches, share practical insights, and examine the impact of FGCs on social change. Stay tuned for our upcoming posts, where we will delve into various aspects of FGC practice and its profound influence on families and communities.

  1. Private Family Time: The Heart of the FGC Process

In the world of Family Group Conferencing (FGC), one aspect stands out as crucial to the success of the entire process: Private Family Time. This phase serves as the heartbeat of the FGC model, allowing families to freely develop their plans in a format they are most comfortable with.

Trust and relationships are the bedrock of any family and friend’s unit, and private family time is a nurturing ground for their growth. Without external influence, family and friend’s network members can express their thoughts, emotions, and aspirations without reservation. This open dialogue creates a safe environment where trust can flourish. The act of conferring and collectively seeking resolutions underscores a shared commitment to the family’s and friend’s network’s well-being. This renewed trust extends beyond the conference, allowing family members to continue working together harmoniously long after the event. Thus, private family time becomes a catalyst for strengthening familial bonds and fostering deeper connections among network members.

Private family time is a unique space where families and their extended networks can engage in conversations that transcend the blame game often associated with past conflicts.

The role of the coordinator during Private Family Time is vital. As the facilitator of the FGC, the coordinator must take responsibility for ensuring the process runs smoothly. By providing guidance and support, they help create a safe and productive space for the family. It is through the coordinator’s actions that families can be empowered to take ownership of the process and make informed decisions.

Deep listening is often the first step in working with families. By truly hearing and understanding their concerns, fears, and aspirations, the coordinator can establish a foundation of trust and respect. This active listening allows the coordinator to gain insight into the family’s dynamics and needs, helping guide the FGC process effectively.

It is important to note that Family Group Conferencing is a model, not a rigid rule book. There may be variations in styles and formats that are necessary within the spirit of the model. The coordinator should be flexible and adaptable, considering the unique dynamics and needs of each family.

A good Family Group Meeting should not get stuck in the past. While it is essential to acknowledge and understand the history and circumstances that led to the conference, the focus should always be on the future. The goal is to develop a plan that supports positive change and promotes the well-being of the family members involved.

Empowerment takes centre stage during private family time, allowing individuals to truly feel and comprehend the complexities of the issues at hand. Rather than being passive recipients of preconceived solutions, family members become active participants in shaping their own destinies. This empowerment paves the way for a sense of ownership over the decisions made during the conference.  And As each individual gains a deeper understanding of the problems faced, they can contribute to the search for tailored solutions that resonate with their unique circumstances. This personalised approach enhances not only the quality of the plan but also the family’s commitment to its successful execution.

When it comes to the venue and setup of an FGC, careful consideration is necessary. While conducting the conference at the family home may seem convenient, it can introduce interruptions and power imbalances that hinder open communication. Therefore, opting for a community venue is generally recommended, unless there are compelling reasons to choose otherwise.

During the setup of the FGC, arranging the chairs in a circle is a symbolic gesture. It demonstrates equality among the participants and encourages open dialogue. This seating arrangement promotes inclusivity, allowing every family member to feel equally valued and heard during the conference.

Confidence and resilience emerge as natural outcomes of the private family time experience. Through open dialogue and mutual understanding, family members become confident in their ability to address challenges and resilient in their approach to overcoming them.

This newfound confidence and resilience lay a strong foundation for tackling future hurdles together, fostering an environment of continuous growth and development.

In essence, the private family time within the Family Group Conferencing model transcends the traditional notion of problem-solving. It propels families and their networks into a realm of open dialogue, empowerment, trust-building, and personal growth. By embracing this crucial phase, families can reshape their narratives, find hope in the future, and collectively pave the way for positive change.