This project seeks to evaluate referring families for Family Group Conferences (FGCs) at pre-proceedings, as part of the Department for Education (DfE) funded Supporting Families: Investing in Practice programme, which is expanding and rolling out promising interventions that came through the DfE’s Innovation Programme. The evaluation, conducted by Coram, consists of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) and a process evaluation.
What are we evaluating?
FGCs are meetings led by family members to plan and make decisions for a child who is at risk. They are convened by FGC coordinators. Previous evaluations have found promising results of FGCs at pre-proceedings, but they used less robust methods, and have not been able to establish causality, due to the lack of a robust comparison group.
This evaluation is part of the Department for Education’s Supporting Families: Investing in Practice programme, which aims to help safely keep children with their parents, by seeking to work with local authorities to adopt and adapt FGCs, as well as two other projects (Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, and the Mockingbird model of foster care).
The primary evaluation question of the RCT relates to care status: does referring families for Family Group Conferencing at the pre-proceedings stage, relative to care-as-usual, change the likelihood that children in 22 local authorities in England are in care (looked after), 12 months after the pre-proceedings letter, and if so, by how much?
There are also four secondary questions, relating to changes in: i) the perceived inclusiveness of how the local authority worked with the parent(s), ii) sustainment of living arrangement following a court judgment, iii) time spent in care, and iv) the likelihood of that court proceedings go ahead.
Coram have been appointed to design and conduct the evaluation. The RCT is randomised at the family level in 22 local authorities in England. Local authorities will identify families who start pre-proceedings on a rolling basis, and these will be randomised through an online randomisation platform to either receive care-as-usual, or care-as-usual plus referral for an FGC at the pre-proceedings stage.
Local authorities involved in the trial should make no changes to their care as usual, except for in the course of normal practice. As such, nobody who would have received a family group conference in the absence of the Supporting Families, Investing in Practice Programme, will be denied one.
Process evaluation questions
A process evaluation will also be run by Coram in parallel. The process evaluation seeks to answer the following questions:
- Was the project implemented as planned?
- What were the barriers and enablers to successful implementation?
- Were FGCs carried out as planned and to Daybreak standards? Why or why not?
- Were any adaptations made to the FGC model that was planned, and if so, what, why, and where?
- What, if any, changes were made to care-as-usual?
- How much impact do staff and families think what they experienced during pre-proceedings (care-as-usual or care-as-usual plus referral for FGC) had on their outcomes?
What can’t we answer?
As well as understanding what questions this research is able to answer, it is important to be clear what it cannot answer. When the results of this trial are known, it should not be used, by itself, to decide whether a family group conference is appropriate for a service to offer, nor for whether it is the best choice for a particular family. This research, as well as the body of other research that has been conducted in the past and continues, the expert judgement of professionals, and the lived experience of children and their families should be taken together to make this decision.
Local authorities will begin referrals for FGCs for the treatment group families from September 2020. Final outcome data collection will be collected in 2022, with publication of results expected in August 2022, contingent on data availability.
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