Emma was 14 at the time of her referral to Daybreak, subject to an interim care order and living in local authority secure accommodation. The risky behaviour that had led to her being resident here included her relationship with an older boyfriend, Joe. He was 30 years old and then in prison for assaulting her and for drug dealing.
Joe had been grooming Emma, but she did not see his behaviour in that way, so his impending release was raising anxieties with the family. She was angry and rejecting her family. They were angry because of her very challenging behaviour. Her social worker had tried a range of things to keep her safe, but Emma refused to speak to her. Children’s services were considering applying to the court for a full care order.
With Emma’s agreement, the Daybreak coordinator, Jenny, visited her in the secure accommodation and after some discussion she seemed interested in the idea of an FGC. This was the first time she had agreed to meet with another professional.
Jenny made contact with Emma’s extended family, most of whom responded positively to the idea of an FGC. These included both her parents, her maternal grandparents, and her paternal uncle. However, her paternal grandparents were not interested. Her father had fallen out with them some years earlier after Emma had stolen from them, and anyway they were now living abroad.
Emma’s key worker in the secure unit had previous experience of FGCs in another setting and was very enthusiastic. He arranged for Jenny to meet with the staff group to explain the FGC process and discuss what was needed for it to work well. There was strong support from the staff. A room was made available which was some distance from the main activities in the building and refreshments were provided. There was a collaborative relationship between Jenny and the key worker and the other staff which contributed positively to the process.
There were concerns about how Emma might participate and fears that she might storm out of the meeting, as she had done in previous more traditional meetings. She was offered someone to support her, someone she might know and trust, or an advocate, but she felt able to do this by herself. Her key worker worked with her during the preparation period, helping her to think through her views, and what she wanted to say at the meeting. But she did not want him to act as her formal supporter. He and Jenny made sure that she understood the process and that, if things began to feel uncomfortable, she could withdraw until she felt able to participate again.
Emma’s parents, her maternal grandparents, and her paternal uncle, John, came to the meeting. The professionals who attended included her social worker, her key worker, and the coordinator. Jenny had made contact with a cousin of Emma, who was a lawyer. She was unable to be present on the day of the meeting, but sent her views to the coordinator by email. Jenny read this out at the meeting and left it with the family during the private family time.
Emma’s 8-year-old brother, Sam, was also unable to be there. Although Emma was fond of him, she had used him to provoke her parents in the past, and the ensuing violence had raised concerns about his own protection. The distance of the secure unit from the family home was also an obstacle to his inclusion.
Despite fears that she might rip up papers and flounce out early on in the meeting, Emma stayed in all the time and gave her views in the first stage.
The questions to be addressed by the FGC included:
- What needs to happen for Emma to return home?
- Who can provide emotional support to her?
- Who can support Emma and her parents if and when she returns home?
The information presented by the social worker included reference to the very risky behaviour that Emma had demonstrated. But the key worker was able to balance this by sharing that the school attached to the secure unit reported positively on Emma’s attitude and achievements.
Emma remained for the second part of the meeting, the private family time. This seemed to be an empowering experience for her, as she took control of writing up the plan to be presented in the final stage of the FGC.
The action points were broad and encompassed many areas, including:
- She would see her grandparents and help them with the cooking and shopping, and gradually move to stay overnight. Emma recognised that her grandparents were rather frail and needed support themselves from her. She agreed to phone her parents for a lift home by 10.30 pm. The social worker agreed for the first time in months that Emma could visit her grandparents. This was arranged to happen three weeks after the FGC.
- Emma would meet her uncle at weekends. This was agreed by the social worker.<
- Emma wanted to stay overnight with her parents. The social worker agreed that this should happen in stages, building up trust during this time. She would first visit for the day, and then the social worker would discuss with both her parents and with Emma how this had gone. If everyone thought this had gone well, then there would be a move to some overnight stays. Again, progress would be monitored.
- Emma would ring her parents, grandparents and her cousin from the secure unit.
- It was recognised that Emma would need to find a new school where she could be happy. She was embarrassed to go back to her old school because of her previous pattern of truanting and bad behaviour.
- Her father said he would redecorate her bedroom.
- Emma would start looking for a part time job when home permanently.
- Emma would try to stop smoking, and would start to think about this straight away. All her family agreed to work together to look for activities to distract Emma from risky behaviour.
- Emma wanted a new phone. It was agreed she would have to work towards this. She could do this by, for example, helping her mother, walking the dog and spending more time with her little brother, Sam. Although she was fond of her brother, she had rejected all her family when angry with them in the past.
There was a FGC Review eight weeks later. The social worker reported that the plan was working, and that Emma’s behaviour in the secure unit and in the associated school was good. The visits home had gone well from everyone’s perspective. They shared that some family therapy for everyone was planned to start soon, to improve relationships between all family members. This had been discussed at the first meeting, but of course was not a viable option whilst Emma was in the unit. Emma’s relationship with Sam was also beginning to improve. It was agreed that Emma could go home in five weeks. Various conditions were set out to ensure monitoring of her behaviour and safety.
As a result of the FGC involving her wider family, Emma’s movement along the care continuum, which was likely to have led to a court application for a full care order, came to an abrupt halt. In fact, it was reversed. Moreover, the process was empowering for Emma and it enabled the family to find their own way to address what was a dangerous situation that could have become significantly worse.
The process that would lead to Emma returning to living at home again was on track for success. That outcome would not only be good for the future life chances and wellbeing of Emma, but would also reduce the potentially massive costs for both the local authority and the court. The central role of a well-trained, skilled, independent and experienced coordinator in achieving should not be underestimated.