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


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Ban, P., & Swain, P. (1994).
Family group conferences: Part one: Australia’s first project within child protection.

Children Australia, 19(3), 19-21.

In this article, the authors outline family group conferencing as a medium to apply the family decision making technique as developed in New Zealand and adopted by the missions of St. James and St. John, Victoria, Australia. This process allows families to make decisions about the welfare of their children, with professionals providing information regarding assessments, supports and resources. An independent coordinator facilitates the process and assists in clarifying information. The article describes the intricacies of the family group conferencing process, including the roles of the coordinator, social worker and other service providers. The authors argue that family decision making is more than gathering families and professionals to create a plan. Rather, it is more about a set of values that underpin the practice. The authors identify some of the values they believe are core to this way of working with families.

Keywords: family decision making; FDM; family group conferencing; FGC; Victoria; Australia; New Zealand; children; family; care; welfare; Missions of St. James and St. John

Stewart, T. (1996).
Family group conferences with young offenders in New Zealand. In J. Hudson, A. Morris, G. Maxwell, & B. Galaway (Eds.), Family group conferences: Perspectives on policy and practice (pp. 65-87).

Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

This article presents an overview of the family group conference process. The author explains the different roles key stakeholders play in the process. Family group conferencing includes the young person, his or her family, the victim and his or her support, the information providers, the police, the lay advocates, the social workers and the youth justice coordinators. In addition, the article explains the different stages of the process from preparation to case closure and provides two case studies portraying successful conferences. Different stakeholders ensure the holistic approach of family group conferencing and offer the opportunity to victims, youths and families to participate in the decision making process. The process is culturally adapted to the specific stakeholders involved.

Keywords: family group conference; FGC; young person; family; victim; support; information givers; police; lay advocates; social workers; youth justice coordinators

Mutter, R., Shemmings, D., Dugmore, P., & Hyare, M. (2008).
Family group conferences in youth justice.

Health and Social Care in the Community, 16(3), 262-270.

The use of family group conferencing in the U.K. is usually restricted to the social care system. However, more recently, the process has been extended to the youth justice system as a means of bringing victims and offenders face to face in a safe environment and as a restorative justice alternative to formal cautioning. Supported by their families and friends, offenders get the opportunity to apologize, while the victim can express how the offense has affected his or her life. Based on evidence from an evaluation of 30 conferences convened as part of a pilot in Thames Valley, this article explores how family group conferencing can be used as a mechanism for restorative justice and how it is interpreted by the young people who take part. The authors argue that, used correctly, family group conferencing can have an extremely positive effect on those involved and help minimize the risk of reoffending. It can also help ensure that young offenders are shown why their behaviors are problematic without entering into the formal criminal justice system, which, the authors argue, can stigmatize and exclude young people from the restoration process.

Keywords: U.K.; United Kingdom; youth justice; evaluation; mixed methods

Marsh, P., & Crow, G. (1996).
Family group conferences in child welfare services in England and Wales. In J. Hudson, A. Morris, G. Maxwell, & B. Galaway (Eds.), Family group conferences: Perspectives on policy and practice (pp. 152-166).

Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

This article presents the England and Wales Children Act of 1989. It underlines some key links between the act and family group conferences. Partnership between service providers and families is presented as a key principle of the act. In addition, the authors emphasize the cultural appropriateness of the act and respect of the wishes and views of the child. The article relates the history of initiating family group conferencing and the role of the Family Rights Group in this achievement. Also, the article relays the different steps of family group conferences and the role of coordinators from preparation to conference facilitation. Lastly, the authors offer two case examples in which families were able to reach agreements.

Keywords: family group conference; FGC; England and Wales; children; family; welfare; Children Act of 1989; family support; culture

Immarigeon, R. (1996).
Family group conferences in Canada and the United States: An overview.

In J. Hudson, A. Morris, G. Maxwell, & B. Galaway (Eds.), Family group conferences: Perspectives on policy and practice (pp. 167-179). Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

This book chapter describes the developments of family group conferences in Canada and the U.S., including work being done in British Columbia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York and Vermont. Family group conferences began in British Columbia in the 1990s as a result of aboriginal advocacy and concerns that non-native laws were devastating the Aboriginal Nation, families and people. In the U.S., two national foundations were strong advocates for family group conferences. The article explores numerous states’ early implementation efforts of family group conferencing.

Keywords: family group conference; FGC; Canada; Newfoundland; Labrador; Manitoba; British Columbia; aboriginal; development; pilot; Child, Family, and Community Service Act; Michigan; Vermont; Maine; New York; W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; American Humane; policy

Doolan, M. (n.d.).
Family group conferences and social work: Exploring the connections.

Unpublished manuscript.

This article examines how the field of social work has been slow to embrace family group conferencing, despite the fact that family group conferencing is in line with many values and skills of the social work profession (e.g., the importance of human relationships, meeting people “where they are at,” and supporting self-determination for clients). The author specifies the concerns that social workers and professionals have when a child’s safety is at stake and argues that traditional, professional interventions are not the best way to protect children. The author uses research findings highlighting the effectiveness of family group conferencing in reducing re-abuse of children and the better quality of plans compared to traditional, professionally driven processes. The author underlines the fact that social work and family group conferencing are “natural allies.” The author also compares the New Zealand approach to child welfare to the U.K. approach and concludes that family group conferencing is not a model for less complicated cases. Unlike in the U.K., New Zealand deals with complicated cases through family group conferencing and the results are promising and compare favorably with the traditional system’s results.

Keywords: New Zealand; United Kingdom; U.K.; family group conferencing; FGC; social work; child safety; plan; family

Sandau-Beckler, P., Reza, S., & Terrazas, A. (2005).
Familias primero: Family group decision making in El Paso County, Texas.

Protecting Children, 19(4). 54-62.

This article summarizes an evaluation of the use of a hybrid model of family group conferencing and family unity meetings in El Paso, Texas, where the majority of families are Mexican-Americans facing unique barriers including language, documentation, service provision, transportation, assimilation and a lack of understanding of U.S. laws. The Familias Primero Family Group Conferencing Project was a model court intervention targeting families at every point in the child welfare continuum. The 14-month evaluation covered 53 conferences and the article presents findings on family communication, the participation of the extended family and social network, cultural responsiveness, satisfaction, safety and permanency, and goal setting.

Keywords: Texas; family group decision making; FGDM; Mexican-American; migration; immigration; family group conference; FGC; family unity meeting; evaluation

Nixon, P. (1998).
Exchanging practice: Some comparisons, contrasts, and lessons learned from the practice of family group conferences in Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Protecting Children, 14(4), 13-18.

This article compares and contrasts family group conferencing in Sweden and the U.K. Sweden has less specific child abuse laws and strong preventive ideologies, whereas the U.K. has child welfare practices that are residual and reactive to child abuse and neglect. This is expected due to public and political lack of support for social work in the U.K. Sweden’s family group conferencing practices are coordinated nationally but they allow for local deviation, while family group conferencing in the U.K. was evolutionary, with middle managers often taking the initiative in these types of projects. Both regions have placed high importance on training and challenging the existing attitudes of caseworkers. Sweden and the U.K. have also both worked to improve family participation in family group conferencing and adjust their collaborative work styles. The similarities in the two countries overpower the differences and both reported that workers were positive about family group conferencing and wanted to continue these practices.

Keywords: family group conferencing; FGC; Sweden; United Kingdom; U.K.; similarities; differences

Glode, J., & Wien, F. (2006).
Evaluating the family group conferencing approach in a First Nations context: Some initial findings.

Unpublished manuscript.

This article presents family group conferencing as practiced in Nova Scotia. The authors explain that traditional child welfare practices have been shown to be less effective than family group conferencing. Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services adapted New Zealand’s family group conferencing model to their context, adding a talking piece, traditional storytelling and language to the process. Nova Scotia’s family group conference project worked with 28 out of 475 active cases. The project had promising results and clients expressed their satisfaction with the process. The authors reveal some implementation challenges in the family group conference process.

Keywords: family group conferencing; FGC; Nova Scotia; family; First Nations families; Maori; New Zealand; culture; decision making

Crow, G. (1996).
Evaluating FGCs in the pilot projects - Social workers’ views of the early stages.

In K. Morris & J. Tunnard (Eds.), Family group conferences: Messages from UK practice and research (pp. 65-79). London: Family Rights Group.

This article depicts a national study on the use of family group conferences in the U.K., in which participating projects agreed to share experiences and pool information to provide an overview of the use of family group conferences. The national evaluators interviewed social workers about a variety of areas, including the number of family group conferences and social worker involvement in conferences. They also asked social workers for advice in setting up similar projects. Social workers discussed the time needed to introduce the model to practitioners, the need for training, the chance to discuss or introduce the model, having the model endorsed by senior staff, getting resources for the project, the need for a project manager or lead person, the need to involve other professionals and reservations about the motivation behind the project. The evaluators concluded that family group conferences have been held for children of all ages, setting up the meetings can be difficult, a wide range of people have been included in the family group, the number of people attending varies, the length of meeting time varies and most meetings discuss placement needs. Further research will be conducted, including gathering social workers’ opinions on the effect that family group conferencing can have on families and themselves.

Keywords: family group conference; FGC; Family Rights Group; evaluation; social worker opinion; overview; involvement; training; resources; project manager; collaboration; reservations; motivation; placement; effects

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