“Two very different places”

Miranda Johnson from Birmingham City Council and Tim Fisher from the London Borough of Camden, give a flavour of the collaborative world of Family Group Conferencing with Adults.

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Using family group conferencing with adults, building a learning community.

A family group conference at its simplest is a conversation, an invitation to talk, to talk not just about “whats wrong?” but rather what happened? and what needs to happen next?

In that spirit, Birmingham City Council joined a conversation with the London Borough of Camden to learn how they were developing Family Group Conference with Adults.

FGC a learning community

Hosted initially by Camden, the UK adult FGC peer network has continued to grow with recent meetings attended by delegates from more than 30 local authorities; social workers, academics important to the development of Adult FGC like Professor Jerry Tew and Professor Peter Marsh as well as Principal Social Work colleagues and Lyn Romeo - Chief Social Worker who featured Adult FGC in her annual report.

Birmingham City Council having come to the network initially to learn, now embark fully on their own FGC journey and will host the next network meeting on the 14th of November 2018

Camden and Birmingham - Two local authorities with big differences in scale, service structure and demographics.

Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Europe over one million people in 40 wards. The latest ‘official’ estimate of Camden's resident population is 253,400, London’s 8th smallest borough by area 2.9% of its population.

Both with rich diversity and community life to which strength-based approaches are so complimentary

Camden’s population is ethnically diverse. In 2011, 34% of Camden residents were from black or minority ethnic groups15 (increased from 27% in 2001). A further 22% are non-BritishWhite residents including Irish and others originating mainly from English-speaking countries in the new world, the EU, Eastern Europe and beyond.

And a population mix to respond to

Whilst Birmingham has one of the youngest populations in Europe, its older population continues to grow rapidly. In terms of the social care market, 65% of adult social care clients are aged over 65.The population aged over 65 is predicted to increase by almost 5% by 2021, by this time there will be an estimated 45,000 people aged over 80, increasing in number by almost 1% per year. Additionally there is an estimated 10,000 adults experiencing dementia, while a demand in support is also being required to be given to significant numbers of young adults who have disabilities or suffer from mental illness. The dependency ratio in Camden, which measures the relative burden of the young and old in comparison with the working age population, is currently 39.4% but is forecast to rise to 45.5% by 2041.

Birmingham re-gearing their social work response

The budgetary constraints in Birmingham faced by the council alongside the rise in demand of services had resulted in the social work practice focusing on meeting demand and evidencing outputs. The care management model meant that the quality of the interaction focused on assessment as a process and ensuring that activity was measured on systems as opposed to the core skill of social work which is working with relationships and assisting people to find solutions that meet their identified needs. Birmingham recognized that a radical shift and full reform needed to be undertaken in order to reclaim social work and begin helping citizens in a way that would benefit them most.

Strength-based learning

FGC is one of the critical elements of the social work framework being developed in Birmingham and sits centrally in the empowerment, strengths based approach which includes a personalised and partnership decision-making framework. This framework is about the ways that the rights of citizens of our society may be respected and enacted at all stages in life.

In Camden social workers reported that FGCs helped them develop strength-based focus across the work they do. Some reported feeling more positive and motivated, they felt like they are more likely to make progress as the FGC became a team effort, opportunities for co-production between the professionals and the family, who can respond to dilemmas, change assessments and plan care arrangements. Both councils are also innovating with Three Conversations Model so pioneering how to embed the two complimentary approaches is very much on the agenda.

FGC approach – different service structures for different social work team structures

In Camden family group conference is not a service with a project base and a telephone in reception in the traditional way; Camden’s FGC is a collaborative enterprise across children’s and adults with independent coordinators commissioned per FGC matched to the culture and language of the family/community by an ‘in house’ FGC manager. Camden has more than 50 FGCs under their belt with adults for a range of situations inc learning disability transitions; safeguarding; return home from hospital; homelessness. While Birmingham will employ ‘in house’ coordinators these will work independently for a central FGC service that will follow the FGC model according to its values e.g. private family time will be given.

Widening the circle

When we recommend FGC to someone in our communities we explain that the key to a family group conference is the strength of the group. Their identified family, friends and other supports can engender hope and change. The story of FGC then is about ‘widening the circle.’ So it follows that the FGC network should then widen the circle in order to learn from and support each other. University of Birmigham and the West Midlands teaching Partnership have been key in this funding a film which showcases Family Group Conference as a strong community based approach https://youtu.be/tJ6wtYxiXZ8 A upbeat film which shows the importance of relationships, a point that might be made too about the thriving FGC learning community.

To book a place for the UK network please email

brenda.white@birmingham.gov.uk