$13.4m Family Group Conferencing investment results in outstanding success for children and families

SA Gov

More at-risk children and young people in South Australia in contact with the child protection and family support system are living safely with family, thanks to the $13.4m State Government investment into Family Group Conferences.

Family Group Conferencing is a facilitated process where extended family work together to make decisions that protect a child or young person who is at risk of harm and possible removal from their family. It is focused on improving the lives of children and their families.

Following the 264 Family Group Conferences held in 2023, approximately 90% of families continue to safely care for their children, with structured support, and to make decisions in the best interests of the child.

The 264 Family Group Conferences held in 2023 involved 482 children – almost twice the number held in 2022. This includes 134 Family Group Conferences for Aboriginal families involving 259 children, up 59% on the previous year.

The Malinauskas Government provided an additional $13.4 million over five years for Family Group Conference services in the 2023-24 State Budget, focusing strongly on supporting Aboriginal families.

With the unacceptable over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people across the child protection and family support system, Family Group Conferences play a critical role in recognising the protective factors that connection to culture, family and community provides and gives families the lead role in finding solutions to keep their children safe, loved and nurtured with kin.

Conferences are also available for unborn child concerns – helping to address issues of risk during pregnancy. In 2023, 30 Family Group Conferences were held for unborn children – up from 20 the year prior.

Family Group Conferences are offered by the Department of Child Protection, in partnership with Relationships Australia South Australia and Aboriginal Family Support Services.

The Family Group Conference model used in South Australia is based on the New Zealand model, which is widely acknowledged as best practice. The model is culturally inclusive and has a strong focus on enabling Aboriginal family and community members to identify strategies to keep children and young people safe with family and kin.

As put by Minister for Child Protection Katrine Hildyard

Keeping children and young people connected, loved, nurtured and safe within their family and community gives young people the best foundation to thrive and succeed.

This is why we have significantly invested in Family Group Conferences, which includes as many family members as possible to provide important protective factors for children and young people.

I’m proud of the positive impact Family Group Conferences are having for families across the state, with families empowered to make decisions in the best interests of their children.

We know that many families are facing a range of complex and interconnected issues including intergenerational trauma, domestic and family violence, substance misuse, mental ill-health and poverty.

When there are risks identified for a child or young person, and a family is willing to work together with DCP, a Family Group Conference puts the family in the driver’s seat to come up with a plan to keep their child safe, nurtured and loved.

The success rate over the past year demonstrates the importance of our investment and that Family Group Conferences are building momentum and providing a really important support for families to safely stay together.

As put by Sarah Decrea, Practice Manager, Family Led Decision Making, Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA)

Family Group Conferences are a proven, effective way to keep children safe in their families and create stronger partnerships with family and community.

The investment in family led decision making programs, in partnership with RASA, is helping to reduce the number of children, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, going into long term care.

The best support is provided to children when the circle around that child is widened. The Family Group Conference process ensures that the wider family is fully informed and understands the extent of the child protection concerns about a child in a timely manner.

Families are in the best position to make informed decisions about children’s safety when they have all available information from relevant agencies and services.

Family Group Conferences are achieving the same significant outcomes for Aboriginal children as non-Aboriginal children, which reflects the strength of a model that empowers families to care for and protect children.

As put by Dan Mitchell, Chief Executive, Aboriginal Family Support Services

National research and publications by peak bodies such as SNAICC and the Bring Them Home Report promote, inform, and make recommendations regarding best practice approaches regarding engaging and support family services being delivered by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs). They are able to provide holistic, trauma informed and culturally safe services, that needs to be considered and valued to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people, families and our Communities.

Particular research by SNAICC in Family Led Decision Making and Family Group conferencing led by ACCOs supports flexible referral pathways to supporting families. Intervening early to support families to resolve challenges before escalation occurs to removal of children and young people. Families need to be supported to access appropriately funded Family Group Conference services across the state to support early intervention, support the families to resolve challenges and involved them in decision making regarding where and with whom they want their children placed.

Family Group Conferencing needs to allow for early intervention with our families before child safety risks and concerns escalate. Practice models and active efforts supporting ATSICPP needs to embedded into child and family focused practices.

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