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


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Edwards, L., & Sagatun-Edwards, I. (2007).
The transition to group decision making in child protection cases: Obtaining better results for children and families.

Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 58(1), 1-16.

This article introduces different decision-making approaches in the child welfare system in Santa Clara County, Calif. The authors advocate for the use of alternative approaches to assure safety and protection for child victims of abuse and neglect. The article describes different processes used simultaneously in the county: * Team decision making brings together family members and professionals to develop agreements. * Family group conferencing differs from other processes by giving the families time to meet privately and construct a plan that meets their needs, and by allowing them to collaborate with professionals to use community resources. * Child protection mediation tackles unresolved legal issues out of the court setting. * Wraparound services is a need-driven approach that provides families and children with the services they need to overcome the situation they are facing. * Emancipation conferences are used when a child is close to aging out of the child welfare system, in which the family meets to address the youth’s future life goals and offers support when needed. In addition, the article describes Family Finding, a way to find extended family members, which can be used to complement any of the family involvement models.

Keywords: Santa Clara County; child welfare; decision making; abuse; team decision making; TDM; family group conferencing; FGC; child protection mediation; wraparound services; family finding; emancipation conference; information sharing

Allan, G. (1996, October).
The New Zealand family group conference -- A lawyer’s perspective.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Building a Better Future for Colorado’s Children and Families Conference, Denver, CO.

This paper emphasizes the importance of families in the family group conference process and rationale behind the legislative choices incorporated in New Zealand’s Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act of 1989. The author asserts family members are naturally better positioned to provide care and love to their children than are professionals. The author also describes the choices of the act to not include attorneys except for those appointed by the family court, in order to preserve the non-adversarial nature of the conference; keep meetings confidential so that families can tackle serious issues facing them; and make the process flexible to fit different cultures and families’ choices. Lastly, the paper describes the family group conference process and the professional’s role in that process. Built into the implementation of family group conferencing is a system of checks and balances to safeguard children’s best interests, in which social workers and judges can overturn the conference decisions even though the data show that this option rarely occurs.

Keywords: family group conference; FGC; lawyer; family; New Zealand; confidentiality; professionals; social worker; Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act

Quinnett, E., & Harrison, R. S. (2002, August).
The Family Unity Meeting Program in the County of San Diego child protection setting.

Paper presented at Dreaming of a New Reality: the Third International Conference on Conferencing, Circles, and other Restorative Practices, Minneapolis, MN.

This article describes how family unity meetings work in San Diego County. The county is culturally diverse and social workers investigate several thousand child abuse allegations each month. The county adopted family unity meetings as a strengths-based model. The authors emphasize the important role that coordinators and facilitators play during referral, preparation, the meeting and follow-up.

Keywords: family unity meeting; San Diego; coordinator; facilitator; strengths; social worker; sexual abuse; physical violence

Doolan, M. (2004).
The family group conference: A mainstream approach in child welfare decision-making.

Unpublished manuscript.

This article depicts the effectiveness of family group conferences in contrast with traditional operations of the child welfare system. The author argues that families, children and communities’ involvement in child welfare decision-making processes amounts to a human right. In contrast with the traditional child welfare approach, family group conferences have been adopted by many countries to fit many needs, from child welfare to criminal justice issues. The author strongly advocates for a new approach that does not alienate families and communities from making the best decisions to safeguard their children and provide the support and care they need. The author supports his arguments with research studies carried out in New Zealand, England and Wales.

Keywords: family group conferences; FGC; New Zealand; England; Wales; human rights; involvement; families; communities; children; social worker

Pakura, S. (2004).
The family group conference 14 year journey: Celebrating the successes, learning the lessons, embracing the challenges.

Unpublished manuscript.

This article explains the historical background for family group conferencing and the importance of culture and family ties in dealing with child welfare issues. Family group conferences were legislated and implemented after the Maori people voiced their need for a process that corresponds best to their cultural identity. The author offers recommendations in regards to funding, building core capacity in communities and recognizing that kinship care needs its own policy, services and resources framework. In addition, the article relates successes of family group conferences in reducing both foster care and reoffending. The author stated that family group conferences brought the Maori people closer together and presented drifting from underpinning philosophy of family empowerment inherent in family group conferencing as a future challenge.

Keywords: Maori; family group conferencing; FGC; family; children; New Zealand; kinship

Ball, C. (1996).
The Children Act 1989 -- Creating a framework for partnership work with families.

In K. Morris & J. Tunnard (Eds.), Family group conferences: Messages from UK practice and research (pp. 5-12). London: Family Rights Group.

This article explains the U.K.’s Children Act of 1989, what led up to the act and what practice looks like after the act was put into effect. The author states that this is the most inclusive child welfare law to date in the U.K. According to the article, problems that existed before this legislation included poor crisis intervention mechanisms, confrontational techniques, inappropriate placements and a lack of effective legal systems. The article goes on to explain that the act came out of a public outcry in 1987 regarding a large increase in child abuse and neglect cases. The Children Act of 1989 emphasized voluntary services, local services, partnerships with parents and making emergency actions take place in a shorter time period. The author concludes the article by stating that the changes that took place due to the Children Act of 1989 allow for children to remain with their own families whenever possible and provide a supportive environment for families to receive services.

Keywords: United Kingdom; U.K.; Children Act of 1989

Schmid, J. (2006).
The business of engaging fathers (and other male relatives) in the FGC process.

Protecting Children, 21(1), 20-29.

This article argues for increased engagement and involvement of fathers, paternal relatives and male family members in child welfare decision-making processes, such as family group conferences. Fathers and other male relatives are often overlooked by child welfare practitioners due to a variety of practices, biases and misgivings, thus rendering fathers invisible and significantly limiting their involvement in case-planning. Moreover, the author notes that fathers, particularly those from minority groups, are often viewed as irrelevant and are stereotyped as a threat or liability. This article indicates that most children want to be connected to their fathers, male relatives and paternal kin, and that many of these men have similar wishes and are capable of making constructive contributions to their children’s lives and development. Likewise, when fathers are engaged and involved, their relatives are likely to follow, thus widening the circle of support for the family and for the child. The author stresses that male involvement in decision making “should not be at the expense of female involvement,” and that cultural family norms and safety issues must be attended to thoroughly when preparing participants for a family group conference. In addition, the author proposes the need for more male conference coordinators in order to approach and engage men in a more diverse and comprehensive fashion.

Keywords: bias; circle of support; coordinator; engagement; family group conference; FGC; fathers; invisibility; involvement; liability; male relatives; mothers; paternal extended family systems; preparation; stereotype; threat

Doolan, M. (2006).
Statutory social work and family group conferences: Exploring the connections.

Protecting Children, 21(1), 5-18.

Historically and internationally, social work professionals have been reluctant to support and adopt family-centered decision making practices in child welfare. The notable exception to this stance is New Zealand, which legally mandated family group conferencing with the passage of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act in 1989. This article discusses potential reasons for the resistance to family group conferencing implementation and offers recommendations for how family-centered practice can be more broadly embraced by the social work profession. In particular, the author suggests that family-driven decision making will never be fully incorporated into statutory child welfare practice until there are specific mandates requiring its implementation. In addition, it should be made clear to child welfare workers that their professional power and input will not be discounted, but rather used differently, when they partner with families. Overall, the author argues that the concepts of child protection and family support should not be viewed as distinct objectives, and that child safety and well-being are enhanced when family groups and professionals collaborate. The author also provides a background of the origins of family group conferencing in New Zealand and a summary of the overall process.

Keywords: New Zealand; family group conferencing; FGC; the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act; Maori; statutory social work; child protection; family support; professional; kinship care; mandate; post-modernism; partnering; power; safety; context; U.K.; United Kingdom

Nixon, P. (2007)
Seen but not heard? Children and young people’s participation in family group decision making: Concepts and practice issues.

Protecting Children, 22(1), 20-36.

This article argues for enhanced child participation and involvement in decision-making processes that affect their lives, particularly family group decision making (FGDM). Historically, adults have not fully considered children’s perspectives regarding important decisions. The author contends that this is partially due to society’s long-held assumption that adults, rather than young people, truly know what is best for children. As a result, adults tend to speak on behalf of children, while children’s views become marginalized, even in circumstances where children will be the most impacted. Studies looking at children’s participation in and views of family group decision making have shown largely positive results. However there are still barriers to full child participation in family group decision making, including a lack of organizational mandates for the involvement of children. The author argues that effectively involving children in family group decision making requires sharing information and listening to children, using innovative and creative strategies to increase child participation and having people present to support the child. In addition, when supported and informed, children should be provided with opportunities to contribute to the monitoring and reviewing of family plans overtime. Likewise, children can even be involved in service development procedures, such as staff training and hiring. Overall, because children know what it means to be a child better than anyone, social workers, policymakers and other adults would be wise to listen to their perspectives in order to improve services and child outcomes.

Keywords: children; young people; adults; rights; participation; involvement; family group decision making; FGDM; U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child; power; advocacy; barrier; evaluation; service development; listening

Adams, P., and Chandler, S. (2004).
Responsive regulation in child welfare: Systemic challenges to mainstreaming the family group conference.

Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, XXXI(1), 93-116.

This book chapter examines the challenges that arise when trying to transform child welfare services. John Braithwaite’s model of responsive regulation and the Braithwaite pyramid are applied to family group conferencing in child welfare. The authors note that Braithwaite’s model helps to understand the relation of two seemingly contradictory but essential elements of family group conferences: empowerment of the family and state or social control. The levels of the pyramid represent different decision-making processes; in child welfare, the pyramid reflects a continuum from state-imposed decisions to state-managed but family-regulated outcomes. The chapter also addresses the difficulties of shifting the role of the state from that of controller to that of regulatory partner when working with families in the child protective services system. The authors then discuss the threats to implementation of family group conferencing and variations of such in the U.S. Threats to implementation include concerns about cost, preparation time, staff training and debates about appropriate cases for family group conferencing. Finally, the chapter describes the use of family group conferencing in Hawaii (called Ohana Conferencing) and the elements that led to its successful implementation.

Keywords: John Braithwaite; responsive regulation; restorative justice; family group conference; FGC; child welfare; child protection; Hawaii; Ohana Conference; implementation; variation; United States; U.S.; cost; staff; transformation; Braithwaite pyramid

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