Together with peers from 3 other agencies, our colleagues participated in the first module of a Family Group Conferencing Co-ordinator Certification Programme. Over the next 12 months, they will be organising family group conferences (FGC) with guidance from the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences Germany as well as Daybreak Family Group Conferences and Eigen Kracht Centrale, the key conference coordinating agencies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands respectively.
The underlying idea of a FGC is very simple. If we have a problem in our life that cannot be easily resolved, we ask our social network to think things through with us. Regardless of our personal history, we would have a social network but maybe we have become a little detached from it or feel a little ashamed or embarrassed to re-establish contact. In such a situation, a FGC co-ordinator could help convene a meeting on our behalf involving our family and friends. At such a meeting, our family and friends will be trusted with the responsibility of the problem-solving process.
Trusting family groups to make crucial decisions concerning their own well-being requires us to firstly, believe in their capability and capacity to do so. For helping professionals, this is not so easy. In 2012, data collected from all FGC agencies in Germany revealed that 93% of referrals described concerns in terms of people’s deficiencies such as poor parenting, dysfunctional marriages or negative peer group influence and only 7% cited structural issues such as the low wages, lack of access to health and other social support. When there is little focus on the context, circumstances or structural issues that sustains problems, people are problematised and are more likely to be regarded as incapable or even irresponsible.
Training involved role playing and as participants got into the role of a family group assembling to resolve the care arrangements of a teenager who was allegedly sexually abused by her step-father, it was quite difficult divorcing the role of a helping professional. Normally in such situations, there will be some family members who will doubt the girl’s accusations but because everyone was a helping professional, such a scenario did not play out. Apart from the mother and step-father, every family member took the side of the girl and not one person gave the step-father the benefit of the doubt. He was scheduled for a court hearing but to this family group he was already guilty as charged.
The case scenario was fictitious, but I am sharing it to highlight how difficult it is for us to get away from our identity of a helping professional. As helping professionals, help is our domain but as a family group conference coordinator, the role would be to return problems to the people so that help comes through their social network. It is not that people will no longer need social services but the decision to access services would be theirs to make.
Helping people to help themselves is a key tenet of social work but when much of what we do discourages this and maintains people’s position as consumers of services, it is just lip-service. Recognising the limits of the social services we provide, and our own abilities must be the first step toward treating others with fairness.
Enjoy your weekend.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.