Five Minute Guides to Family Conferences

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Five Minute Guides

Family Conferences

What is a family conference?

As the name suggests a family conference is an opportunity for all the family to meet to discuss particular topics. It involves giving everyone an equal opportunity to express his or her opinions, ideas and concerns about the subject under discussion. They should aim to be democratic with decisions and outcomes being negotiated and agreed.

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Why have family conferences?

Children can sometimes feel that they have no control in their lives. This feeling can often be brought on by traumatic events such as bereavements or parental relationship difficulties and separation or through on going difficulties such as money problems, housing issues, parental work commitments and difficulties in school. Family conferences are about giving children a tangible sense of control over the decisions that affect their lives everyday.

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How do you fun a family conference?

Set aside a time when everyone can be together without other distractions such as TV or when children or adults are tired or needing to be somewhere else.

Introduce this as something positive. Agree clear rules for listening to each other, letting each person finish speaking without interruptions. Talk about respect for each other’s ideas even if they don’t like them. Agree how decisions will be made: perhaps by voting with a show of hands or a secret written ballot. Adults may need an ultimate veto and this should be explained. For example an idea might be too expensive, not practical or not possible for some other reason that should be explained fully.

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How formal are these meetings?

These meetings need to have a clear purpose, structure and ground rules. Otherwise decide how formal you want to make these meetings. Sometimes, particularly with older children having a very formal meeting where there is a chairperson and someone to make notes can be useful. If the children are old enough then taking it in turns to be chairperson can increase the child's sense of equality and status within the family. If meetings are too informal then they can be difficult to manage and run. Keeping meetings formal can create a sense of occasion that can be useful for raising the status and importance of the discussion.

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How long does a meeting last?

Keeping meetings focussed and time-limited can be useful as this this keeps them purposeful and avoids them becoming too boring. Consider the age of the children and how long is reasonable for them to sit and listen. It is better to have short sharp meetings about one or two things than to have too much to discuss and meetings becoming feats of endurance. Ten minutes to about thirty minutes is probably ideal.

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What if someone tends to dominate the meeting?

Having clear ground rules for meetings where everyone has an equal opportunity to talk is important. It can also be useful to have a time limit for each person’s contribution to the discussion. A two-minute rule can be used to limit how long a person can keep arguing the same point of view.

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How frequently do you have meetings?

It is good to have these meetings regularly so the format and rules remain remembered. Weekly or fortnightly is ideal.

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What are the common ground rules?

It is important to have clear written down rules agreed for your family conferences. These might include the following:

Everyone’s opinions, ideas and comments are important
Only one person speaks at a time
Everyone needs to wait their turn to speak
We show respect for each other by listening considerately
If we disagree with someone we wait our turn to speak
Two-minute rule - if we can’t agree we move on

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What topics can be discussed?

Anything can be discussed in these meetings. The idea is to include everyone in everyday decision-making. Topics might include planning the weekly food shop, decisions about holidays, decorating, going out or choosing a family film as well as more serious topics affecting the family.

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Family Conferences

Five Minute Guide to Family Conferences

A handy printable version of this five minute guide suitable for handing to parents, school staff and other professionals and carers. Use 2-sided printing (set printer to flip on short side) and fold in half to produce A5 leaflet.

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