Practice, Policy and Implementation: An International Annotated Bibliography of Family-Engagement Strategies in Child Welfare

Introduction

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Holland, S., & O’Neill, S. (2006).
“We had to be there to make sure it was what we wanted”: Enabling children’s participation in family decision-making through the family group conference.

Childhood, 13(1), 91-111.

This article describes the results of involving children in family group conferences from a study carried out in Wales. The authors acknowledge that family group conferences help children interact both with the state and the family. The authors state that both anecdotal and research evidence have been positive; however, these findings are more process-focused, rather than outcome-focused. The article details some of the standard concerns about children participating in the process. Using a child-centered and participative evaluative approach, the authors conclude that in the majority of cases, family group conferences helped empower participating children and family members.

Keywords: empowerment; family group conference; FGC; participation; Wales; children; decision making; risk; family


Crampton, D. (2006).
When do social workers and family members try family group decision making? A process evaluation.

International Journal of Child & Family Welfare, 9(3), 131-144.

This article examines what factors or case characteristics may influence child welfare professionals and families to try family group decision making (FGDM). An exploratory analysis of 593 referrals (from 1996 to 2000) to Kent County, Michigan’s Family and Community Compact program aimed to address the following questions: * What were the differences between cases deemed appropriate for the program (and thus for FGDM) and those considered inappropriate? * Of the referrals deemed appropriate, what were the differences in cases where families chose to participate in FGDM and those where families chose not to participate? * Of the families who participated in FGDM, what were the differences between those who developed a plan for their children to live with extended kin and those who did not? Overall, this study found that both child welfare professionals and families were more likely to try FGDM in cases characterized by parental substance abuse, improper supervision, children with special needs (including behavioral needs) and/or identified kinship care providers. In addition, referrals that involved identified kin were more likely to result in a plan that included extended family members as care providers. The author notes that these findings are not surprising, as extended kin participants tend to increase the success of FGDM processes. In contrast, in cases where parental rights had been terminated, referrals were less likely to be approved for FGDM. The author reasons that both professionals and families may be more likely to try FGDM in situations where the case has more ambiguity or lacks “a straightforward course of action.” Moreover, the author suggests that this study’s findings indicate that there are few case characteristics that professionals and family members consider to be inappropriate for FGDM. Finally, the author concludes by highlighting the debate over whether FGDM is an appropriate approach in cases of severe child abuse (i.e., sexual abuse), and suggests that FGDM could be most beneficial in such circumstances when used on a case by case basis.

Keywords: family group decision making; FGDM; Family and Community Compact Program; referral; professionals; family members; appropriate; inappropriate; case characteristics; kinship; substance abuse; mental illness; supervision; special needs; homelessness; education; ambiguity; sexual abuse; plan


Sherry, M. (2008).
What have we learned about family group conferencing and case management practices?

Protecting Children, 23(4), 20-37.

This article explores the impact of family group conferencing on case management practices and vice versa through a summary of views of workers and managers at the Children’s Aid Society in Brantford, Ontario. Through the results of a focus group and individual interviews, Sherry further explores the impact of the family group conferencing experience, values and philosophy and case management practices. The themes from the focus group include a focus on trusting the process, an awareness of family strengths and dynamics, widening the family circle, power, timing and concerns in the hope of better answering the question: Does family group conferencing transform child welfare practice?

Keywords: family group conferencing; case management; transformation; qualitative; family-centered practice; caseworker


Walker, H. (1995, December).
Whanau family decision making: A liberating social work practice based on trust.

Paper presented at the Beyond The Bench VII Conference, Oakland, CA.

This article depicts the historical racism and inequality in treating people of color, including indigenous and black people in western societies. This disparity in treatment led to the enactment of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act in 1989 in New Zealand. Also, the author relates the opposition to family group conferencing in New Zealand which can be attributed to issues of governmental power and control, and the disbelief in families’ ability to make decisions and address issues they encounter in their homes. The author argues that families are capable of finding resolutions that offer the child safety and protection.

Keywords: trust; family decision making; New Zealand; family; children; care; protection; whanau


Merkel-Holguin, L., Tinworth, K., Horner, A., & Wilmot, L. (2007).
Using family group conferencing to achieve permanency for youth.

Protecting Children, 22(1), 38-49.

This article exposes the challenges foster youths encounter when emancipating or aging out of foster care, including homelessness, poverty and lack of formal education. The authors argue that permanency for youths cannot be achieved at the legal level but rather through connections with caring and committed adults. One of the barriers to permanency can be the system’s belief that older youths are not interested in forming or strengthening connections to adults and that youths’ extended families are not interested in committing to the youth. These myths are contradicted by research that documented that youths repeatedly affirmed they want permanent family connection and long-term stability. Family group conferencing is portrayed as an opportunity to achieve permanency for youths and teach them, at a young age, the value of civic participation.

Keywords: family group conferencing; FGC; permanency; youth; family; foster care; homelessness; poverty; education


Schmid, J., Harris, C., Hassabu, I., & Barnwell, L. (2007).
Using family group conferencing in the context of death and dying.

Protecting Children, 22(1), 51-60.

This article describes the use of family group conference within the context of death and dying. The authors detail their experiences of coordinating family group conferences where the death of a caregiver was imminent, had recently occurred or was a central reason for convening the conference. The authors note that dying caregivers can feel both empowered and relieved to know that a plan has been made for their children after they pass away. Furthermore, the family group conference can help all family members process their feelings regarding the loss, and provide additional supports for the child who is losing or has lost his or her primary caregiver. Given the sensitive circumstances of such conferences, the authors describe the additional challenges that coordinators must effectively manage. For example, coordinators must carefully balance the issue of time; preparing a family for such an “emotionally intense” family group conference could take longer, but may need to happen faster depending on the progression of the caregiver’s illness. Likewise, the coordinator needs to be culturally respectful by recognizing that the grieving process is likely different for everyone. The family’s culture may also dictate whether feelings of shame or anger exist surrounding the nature of the person’s illness or death and the coordinator should allow these feelings to be shared while working to ensure the emotional safety of all participants. All family members must have adequate support and the ill or dying person should be made as comfortable as possible. It is the responsibility of the coordinator to tune in to his or her own triggers, while attending to the emotional responses of family members and service providers. Children should be given an opportunity to share their feelings and express their needs throughout the conference. Finally, the authors stress that the primary role of the coordinator is not one of a therapist; although challenging, the coordinator needs to resist concentrating on the emotional grief surrounding the loss, and maintain the focus of the conference on addressing the needs of the children.

Keywords: bereavement; ceremony; coordinator; cultural issues; death; dying; emotional intensity; family group conference; FGC; grieving; loss; mourning; planning question; practicalities; preparation; service provider; support; time pressures; trigger


Family Rights Group. (2008, October).
Using family group conferences for children who are, or may become subject to public law proceedings: A guide for courts, lawyers, CAFCASS and CAFCASS CYMRU officers and child care practitioners.

London: Author.

The purpose of this publication is to provide information and guidance to all involved in public law cases so that family group conferences are used as effectively as possible for vulnerable children, particularly those who are at risk of being taken into care. It does not cover the use of family group conferences for private law proceedings. Developed by the Family Rights group, in consultation with the Family Group Conference Network, the Family Justice Council and CAFCASS, the paper outlines the benefits, purpose, structure and process of a family group conference, giving practitioners who come into contact with vulnerable children at risk of entering the care system the necessary information for applying the family group conferencing model in this context. As well as stating what a family group conference looks like, the paper describes the processes which fall outside or run contrary to the family group conferencing model. It also provides guidelines for when family group conferencing can be used; family group conferencing projects that practitioners can refer a case to; and a list of studies, including their findings, which support the use of family group conferencing as an effective model in meeting the needs of children and families.

Keywords: U.K.; United Kingdom; child welfare; practice development


Velen, M., & Devine, L. (2005).
Use of FGDM with children in care the longest: It’s about time.

Protecting Children, 19(4), 25-34.

This article describes the results and practice implications of the KIN-nections demonstration project, an Arizona program that evaluated the impact of family group decision making (FGDM) on the permanency planning needs of children who had been living in out-of-home care for five years or longer and of those without an identified placement, despite their availability for adoption. The overall goals of KIN-nections were to increase relative adoptions, increase relative guardianships and evaluate the impact of FGDM when used for children with the greatest permanency needs (as opposed to using it only at the front-end of cases when children typically have more time for permanency planning). Throughout the article, the authors detail the largely positive findings from this study, including case examples of enhanced family connections through FGDM participation. For the most part, people involved with the KIN-nections program felt that conferences were beneficial even if a child permanency plan was not developed, implemented or successful; this speaks to the importance of FGDM as a process that can enhance advantageous and lasting connections between children and their extended family group. The authors suggest that future studies should examine implementation activities post-conference, as strengthened follow-up may be an opportunity to support permanency efforts for children. Overall, this study suggests that FGDM is an effective approach for working with child populations who are most in need of permanency. Accordingly, the authors argue that FGDM should be made continuously available throughout the life of a case.

Keywords: permanency; KIN-nections; family group decision making; FGDM; placement; relative; adoption; guardianship; older children; children of color; special needs; aunts; uncles; paternal involvement; training; follow-up


Connolly, M. (2006).
Up front and personal: Confronting dynamics in the family group conference.

Family Process, 45(3), 345-357.

This article addresses the issue of power dynamics that often occurs during the process of a family group conference. The author discusses how the family and workers can challenge each other, how other professionals may challenge the practice of family group conferences, and how challenges between family members can also occur, particularly during the private family time phase of the process. The author describes the findings of a study involving focus groups with family group conference coordinators. Coordinators were guided to discuss their experiences with family group conference coordination and how the practice has changed over time; what worked and did not work during a typical conference; and how family members affected the overall process. Findings from this study include the following themes: * Workers need to communicate clearly and honestly with the family about the concerns of child protective services so that they can make informed and safe decisions. * Discussions during private family time can often be influenced by the input of professionals or by more powerful members. * Family secrets can often contribute to existing power imbalances within the family but may also be sources of hidden support for children. * Skilled facilitation is vital to ensure that the process is truly family-driven. * Differences in professional values and levels of power may create tension between workers and other professionals. * Paradigm shifts (i.e., from a child rescue focus to one that supports the entire family’s needs) are necessary in order to do strengths-based and family-focused work. The author also highlights the potential for family group conferences to enhance family resilience by having the wider extended family work collaboratively to solve and address problems.

Keywords: balance; Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act; collaboration; consensus; coordinator; dynamics; family group conference; FGC; focus group; honesty; New Zealand; power; private family time; professional; solution-based


Roberts, D. (2007).
Toward a community-based approach to racial disproportionality.

Protecting Children, 22(1), 4-9.

This article explores the important role of communities in the development and well-being of youths, and describes the relationship between community-based approaches and racial disproportionality in the child welfare system. Although child welfare agencies have largely adopted the capacity-building nature of community-based social work in poor and minority neighborhoods, they have also often overlooked the sociopolitical and community impact of their concentrated presence in these areas. The author argues that existing racial disparities in foster care placement rates (higher for families of color) increase the chances that these children will grow up in neighborhoods with a high degree of state supervision, which will ultimately disserve them and their overall community. Alternatives to adversarial approaches are needed for poor and minority families that become involved in the child welfare system. Family group decision making is presented as an empowering and flexible approach that engages communities and families by emphasizing their strengths. While culturally competent practice is a valuable first step in addressing issues of racial disproportionality, it must be partnered with changes in child welfare decision-making processes (such as family group decision making) in order to reform the child welfare system and improve outcomes for poor and “minority” communities and families.

Keywords: community-based approach; community impact; cultural competence; family engagement; family group decision making; FGDM; foster care placement; individualized focus; neighborhood partnerships; racial disparities; racial disproportionality; state supervision; strengths-based approach


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