Social Action with Children and Families: A Community Development Approach to Child and Family Welfare

By Chris Warren; Crescy Cannan | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Mechanisms for empowerment

Family group conferences and local family advocacy schemes

Jo Tunnard

INTRODUCTION

The Children Act 1989 challenged local authorities to identify and provide for the needs of children and their families, rather than focus on parental shortcomings. It requires a redirection away from targeted services for children at risk of abuse, towards universal provision of services aimed at reducing stress on families and the need for crisis intervention. It demands that children and their families play a greater part in planning for their future, and that services reflect the lessons learnt from consulting with the community about their needs.

For families, empowerment is best seen as both a process and a goal. Changed practice in the wake of the 1989 Act should be characterised by people having the power to express their needs and deciding how those needs can best be met.

Some local authorities and voluntary agencies are making progress on both counts. This chapter describes two mechanisms for empowerment that have been developed under the auspices of the Family Rights Group (FRG), a national organisation with a long-standing reputation for promoting user participation in children and family services.

The first is the family group conference (FGC), an exciting concept introduced recently from New Zealand. The chapter describes its development and philosophy, its introduction to the UK, the results emerging from research studies, and how it works in practice.

The second model for empowerment is family advocacy. Family advocacy schemes provide a means of redressing the imbalance of power between statutory agencies and service users. The second part of the chapter describes the slow growth of advocacy in children and family work, the impetus provided by the new legislation, some examples of local work, and the essential elements for successful family advocacy schemes.

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