The Family Group Conference, Mediation and Advocacy in house service offer has expanded and evolved over the last five years, to ensure that we meet the ever changing needs and diversity of our service users. Since 2018 we have developed an in-house advocacy service to ensure as professionals and services we truly hear and listen to the voices of our children in an inclusive supportive and empathic way. These very powerful voices of children and young people are changing plans and decision making in the best interest of the child.
To highlight the work we undertake I wanted to share with you ‘a good practice example’ by Clive Wedlock, of what can be achieved through solution focused, strengthening based, inclusive processes, when utilised at the right stage in a child’s journey. Therefore detailed below is A’s journey and the positive outcomes that were achieved, through collaborative working. It was important to ensure that through all the arduous processes A had to go through and there were many, that her voice was kept at the forefront at every step of her journey.
‘My name is Clive Wedlock and I am an Independent, freelance worker for the Family Group Conferencing Service for Buckinghamshire County Council Children’s Social Care. I am commissioned on a case by case basis to work with children and families around Family Group Conferencing, Mediation, Conflict Resolution and Advocacy for young people within ICPC’s and the Family Court in support of the young person.
I would like to highlight a particular young person who I have supported since June 2019. A was 12 years of age and in the final stages of pregnancy to her unborn, a little girl, S. I was commissioned to support A throughout the Child Protection Conferences and subsequent Family Court proceedings.
My first meeting with A was at her home in June 2019. My first impression was that of a chaotic and overcrowded home with her parents facing their own challenges. However, as our meeting progressed I was struck by the maturity of A, well beyond her years and her total focus on S. S’s father was 14 years of age from a Brazilian, Portuguese speaking family with a very limited command of English. S’s father faced his own challenges and in context was far less mature than A in his day to day behaviours and decision making.
This is where my 14 month journey with A and S began. The ICPC was informative in that A presented with a determination that she would not be parted from her child and S was her primary focus. I gained her voice and ensured she was heard throughout the ICPC’s and Reviews. A was consistent, confident and self-informed around pregnancy, child birth and after care of S. A’s home life was difficult given her parents insecurities and inability to cope with the situation. A took control of her life, S’s and it appeared to me that she was the responsible ‘adult’ in the family for the care of her younger siblings.
Home life deteriorated rapidly with the departure of A’s father, her mother’s inability to manage the family and A was subsequently fostered in Gerrards Cross, as A was ‘physically abused’ by both parents. Throughout, I liaised with her Social Worker Natasha Westgate, her solicitor the CP Chair and thereafter attended the Family Court with her, supporting her throughout the proceedings which were protracted to say the least. I also supported A during her psychological assessment with an Independent Psychologist which focussed on her cognitive maturity and ability to mother a new born child.
The final Hearing was in August 2020 when the Family Court Judge commended A for her maturity, child focussed approach and determination that S would enjoy a stable, nurtured, safe maternal environment and ordered S remain with her mother in a long term foster placement, the Judge said that A was truly an inspirational young lady. A’s younger siblings are placed in foster care with regular contact put in place for A and S to continue be part of their lives.
My point is collaborative working for the best interests of the child and young person can be effectively facilitated by an independent, neutral and professional member of my team within the Family Group Conferencing, Mediation and Advocacy Service which keeps children and their voices at the forefront of all our practices. The case of A is a prime example of inclusive practices provided by the in-house service. As an Advocate for A working with her Social Worker, ICPC and Review, Psychologist and the Family Court over an extended period empowered this young lady to shine through and her voice was truly heard, which changed plans and decision making by all professionals involved.
I would encourage professionals within Children’s Social Care to seek independent intervention by the Family Group Conferencing, Mediation and Advocacy Service at the earliest opportunity in the child’s journey where change is most effective’.
‘Advocates empower children who are often in extremely powerless situations; they are not an optional extra but a crucial mechanism for making sure all children enjoy their rights.’ (Carolyne Willow, Children and Young People Advocacy England 2019)
Family Group Conference, Mediation & Advocacy Service Manager