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Keywords:

  • child protection;
  • Family Group Conferences;
  • health visiting;
  • phenomenology

Aims and background The purpose of this study was to explore Health Visitors’ experiences of Family Group Conferences as part of Child Protection Planning in Hampshire, England. The aim was to identify good practice, recognizing the challenges of the approach and enabling recommendations for improved collaboration to be framed. The Family Group Conferences model is based on partnership, decision-making and family involvement and presents an alternative to case conferences.

Methods A Husserlian phenomenological approach was adopted, using taped semi-structured interviews with four health visitors who had experience of Family Group Conferences. Colaizzi's seven stages of phenomenological analysis were used.

Findings The four key categories related to the ability of the Family Group Conference model to empower families; the need for health visitors to receive appropriate education and training; organizational; and professional issues. Health visitors believed that Family Group Conferences could empower families, but they felt unprepared to attend. Concerns were identified regarding confidentiality and responsibility. Although the health visitors supported the principles underpinning Family Group Conferences, they were unsure about how to put theory into practice. The need for more education and training was strongly supported to enable the model to move from marginal to mainstream use. They also considered that Family Group Conferences could threaten interagency working, associated with issues relating to professional responsibility.

Conclusions The results identified training and procedural issues that need to be addressed if Family Group Conferences are to be introduced successfully within mainstream child protection practice. Insights from this study have led to inclusion of Family Group Conferences in the local child protection guidelines, with emphasis applied to interdisciplinary working, empowerment of families and professional staff, and education and training.