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Putting families back in the driving seat of decisions about their own children is behind an exciting new initiativ...
Putting families back in the driving seat of decisions about their own children is behind an exciting new initiative being pioneered in the north west.

Bury has become the first authority in the region to adopt a fully comprehensive, multi-agency family group meeting service. The concept, originally developed down under with the Maori people of New Zealand, will mean that for the first time families and children with difficulties in a wide range of areas from truancy to school exclusion, disability, welfare, offending and behaviour issues, will now be at the heart of a help themselves programme.

Co-ordinator for the Bury Metro-run initiative, Keith Berry, said: 'Some years ago the Maori people expressed concerns over the way in which statutory services in New Zealand functioned.

'They highlighted, in particular, the disproportionately high numbers of Maori children in the care of the state. Drawing on their cultural roots they came up

with the family group meeting concept, which is basically an opportunity for families to devise their own plan for dealing with difficulties.

'Families can still accept support from the various agencies but it is the families themselves that decide what the plan will be, including what support they need. Thus, instead of having solutions drawn up for them by professionals, it is the families themselves who sit down and take responsibility for their own.'

'Similar schemes have operated in this country in limited fields such as accommodation and child protection, but Bury's initiative is the very first in the North West to be available for all families, where there are important decisions to

be made about their child's future.

Now, on Friday 22 September, the new Bury service is to be launched with professionals from the fields of education, welfare, social work, teaching, health visitors, probation officers, doctors and police taking part. The event, will be

addressed by speakers Fran Gosling Thomas from the Social Services Inspectorate and the head of Bury metro's own children's services, Peter Duxbury.

Bury Metro's social services chair, councillor Kevin Scarlett, added: 'This really is an exciting initiative. It is a complete change of attitude and turns on its head many of the current working practices.

'While professionals will still be in a position to identify and refer concerns once they have come under the wing of the family group meeting service, there will be an opportunity for the individuals involved to get together and try and thrash out their own solution. Families will be seeking solutions to problems within their own unit. That could involve mums, dads, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, all coming together to produce their own family plan.

'At the same time they will be given support and assistance in helping it to work. What we are seeing is a return to the old-fashioned values where families stood by each other. All too often nowadays discussions between family members of different generations do not take place.

'What we are trying to do is encourage that and encourage the families themselves, obviously with support where needed, to find a solution that works for them rather than be asked to work within a framework devised by others.

'Evidence so far has shown that 93 per cent of family group meetings do produce successful plans. The initiatives not only allow the family to make decisions for themselves but also encourage a child or young person, perhaps facing exclusion from school because of truancy, to be part of the decision making process.'

Keith added: 'What has been found is that people are much more inclined to support and co-operate with plans that they have helped to create. At the same time it does encourage family networks, sometimes quite widely extended ones, to pull together to help sort things out. Also, and perhaps most important of all, the initiative recognises the inherent strengths that can be found within the family unit and just how those can be harnessed.'

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