New Barnsley company helps families secure better futures

A team of experts has established a new business venture in Barnsley to help families across the region tackle challenges and seek solutions to problems.

Preferred Futures Family Services works with local authorities, schools, NHS trusts and charities to supply a range of specialist family support services.

Launched nine months ago, the company is already delivering training and consultancy services to clients across Yorkshire and North East Lincolnshire. And it has now secured its first commission to plan, prepare and deliver a family group conference (FGC) for vulnerable families in Wakefield.

Family group conferencing is Preferred Futures’ primary area of expertise and lies at the heart of its new business, which is being supported through the Genesis business incubation programme at Barnsley Business and Innovation Centre (BBIC).

Mel Davidson, one of Preferred Futures’ founders, said: “Family group conferences put families in the driving seat and, if delivered well, can make a massive difference to people’s lives and secure better futures for everyone.

“They are not a statutory requirement and, in these times of austerity, hard-pushed public services struggle to organise FGCs, even though evidence shows that they are an extremely cost-effective way to secure good results for families.

“We set up the company in a large part because we are so passionate about family group conferences and want to dedicate our expertise to helping empower families to take control of decisions that affect their lives.”

Family Group Conferences bring together extended family, friends and neighbours to make plans about an issue they have to deal with. It may be a child is at risk of going into care, a young offender is returning home or a vulnerable adult or older relative is coming out of hospital. Social workers, teachers, health visitors and other professionals are also present but it is the family who are the decision makers.

Preferred Futures’ role is to act as an independent co-ordinator to help family members prepare for the process, facilitate and support their discussions and help them clarify the resultant plan of action which the family decide to take forward, with relevant professional support.

Preferred Futures’ four directors, who have extensive experience working in the public and third sector, set up their business to ensure this option was available to families across the north of England and Midlands.

Mel said: “We are entirely focused on delivering family group conferences well. If supported properly, FGCs can empower families to take the lead and resolve issues early and this can avoid children going into care or negate the need for costly court proceedings.”

A recent national survey conducted by the Family Rights Group charity concluded that for every £1 spent on delivering family group conferences, the savings to the state are £11.

For example, it is estimated that the average cost of taking a child into care is £25,000 a year and court proceedings in family disputes, such as contact arrangements following separations, can also cost local authorities thousands.

The importance of working with families to explore all options before a child goes into care was recently highlighted in the Children and Families Bill. Plus, recent legislation has placed ‘personal budgets’, which aim to give individuals more control over how money is spent on supporting them, at the heart of family support work.

Mel said: “It is increasingly recognised that people should have more of a voice in decision-making and whole families should be involved from the beginning. We believe authorities need to work with people and treat them as the experts in their own lives.”

The Preferred Futures team also offer a range of services such as parenting support, dealing with bereavement, divorce and separation and behavioural issues.

Preferred Futures has set up and developed its consultancy with free specialist business support and office accommodation through the Genesis programme.

Mel said: “We were just coming together and thinking about starting the business when we heard about SmartStart and Genesis at BBIC and thought we’d come along and find out more. The business support has been absolutely brilliant and really helped us to achieve so much in just a few months.”

Preferred Futures aims to grow and reach more clients across the region. It is preparing to conduct its own research into the impact of FGCs to support future tenders and would like more volunteers – such as ex-service users – to get involved in its work too.

BBIC business development manager James Herbert said: “Preferred Futures came to us with an original business plan built on their specialist expertise and a clear vision of what they want to achieve. It has been excellent to help them establish their business.”

Mel Robertson of Preferred Futures Family Services
Mel Robertson of Preferred Futures Family Services


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