The family rights group: keeping children safe in their families (Lifelong Links)

Relationships and long term social connection is the cornerstone to child and family welfare’. (Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, (July 2016) Putting Children First, Department for Education).

The Lifelong Links approach draws upon a combination of a family finding model, which originated in the United States and the family group conference model, which originated in New Zealand. Lifelong Links aims to identify and engage relatives and other supportive adults connected to a child in care, who are willing to make a life-long commitment to that child. Research shows that the continuity and permanence of these familial relationships will offer the child ongoing emotional and practical support, help provide an explanation of historical events, and reinforce the child's identity and sense of belonging.

The Lifelong Links model includes tools and techniques for professionals to use to search for and find family members (known or unknown to the child) and other adults (such as former foster carers or teachers) who care about the child. This network is then brought together in a family group conference (FGC) to make a life-long support plan with, and for, the young person. They are also subsequently offered a review family group conference to enable them to reflect whether the plan is working or whether circumstances have changed and the plan needs to be amended. The local authority integrates the Lifelong Links plan into the child's care plan and social workers work with the young person and their support network during the young person's time in care, during their transition to independence and into adulthood.

Family Rights Group is leading a three year trial of Lifelong Links in five local authorities in Scotland; the trials are taking place in the City of Edinburgh Council, Falkirk Council, City Of Glasgow Council and Perth and Kinross Council. Lifelong Links is also operating in 12 local authorities in England. Other local authorities will join the project as the trial progresses. Lifelong Links aims to build lasting support networks for children and young people in care. The trial is funded by the KPMG Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, The Robertson Trust and RS MacDonald Charitable Trust in Scotland. The trial eligibility criteria are young people in care aged under 16 years old, who have been in care for less than 5 years, and for whom there is no plan for them to live within their family or be adopted. We hope that the trial will benefit over 1000 children and young people UK wide.

The approach uses detailed search strategies to find family members and other people who are important to the young person. These people are then contacted and with agreement, brought together through a family group conference.

The trial started in April 2017 and many young people have already received Lifelong Links and we are hearing really positive stories from the participating local authorities.

FRG has trained over 200 coordinators and managers in Lifelong Links. We have developed a detailed toolkit for practitioners and we also run regular Lifelong Links practice learning groups for the trial authorities to get together and learn from each other. There has been a positive sharing of support and ideas across the trial sites.

The trial is being independently evaluated by Rees Centre, University of Oxford and CELCIS, University of Strathclyde and the evaluation is now underway.

Outcomes we are seeking to achieve
We want to build lifelong support networks for children and young people in care.

Our aims are:

  • To increase the number of supportive, lasting relationships for children in care
  • Reduce the number of placement breakdowns
  • Improve emotional and mental wellbeing
  • Improve educational engagement and attainment
  • Reduce incidents of running away
  • Reduce harmful and risky behaviours including substance misuse, self-harm and criminal activity
  • Improve long term outcomes for children leaving care including an increase in training and employment and reduced likelihood of their own child being removed.

For me Lifelong Links helped me to make contact with my Dad and I found out I have a large family who would be able to support me and have a role in my life. I think Lifelong Links is a great thing for children in the care system. Jamie, 16 years old.

You can find more information on Lifelong Links at or you can contact Stuart Graham, Lifelong Links Project Director, at