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


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Doolan, M. (2007).
Duty calls: The response of law, policy and practice to participation rights in child welfare systems.

Protecting Children, 22(1), 10-18.

This article provides a brief history of the child welfare systems of Western, English-speaking countries, emphasizing that the rights of families and children were often not respected. In contrast to child welfare systems of Western continental Europe, where there is an increased focus on solutions and family unity, English-speaking systems tend to be risk-oriented and characterized by legalistic and adversarial processes. This focus has made it difficult to introduce family-led decision making into these child welfare systems. The author describes the changes needed at the national and local levels to create child welfare systems that are more responsive to families and children.

Keywords: child welfare; family rights; family group conferencing; FGC; English-speaking countries

Schmid, J. E., & Pollack, S. (2009).
Developing shared knowledge: Family group conferencing as a means of negotiating power in the child welfare system.

Practice, 21(3), 175-188.

This article argues that, due to the type of language it uses and its structures, the Anglo-American child welfare system can often alienate and marginalize the families it encounters. According to the authors, existing evidence suggests that families can feel like their knowledge and perspectives are given less recognition than those of child protection workers, creating a systemic power imbalance. To remedy this, the authors recommend the use of collaborative child welfare models such as family group conferencing to facilitate the co-creation and ownership of knowledge and challenge the “sanctity of professional knowledge” within the decision-making process. The authors draw from existing writing on family group conferencing and institutional power imbalances within child welfare to support their argument.

Keywords: information sharing; child welfare; family group conferencing; FGC; Anglo-American; power; culture

Holland, S., Scourfield, J., O’Neill, S., & Pithuose, A. (2005).
Democratising the family and the state? The case of family group conferences in child welfare.

Journal of Social Policy, 34(1), 59-77.

The authors discuss family group conferences as an opportunity to empower families and give a voice to the less powerful of its members -- children. They state that through family group conferences, children felt heard and included in the decision-making process. In addition, the authors argue that while family private time is a crucial element in family group conferences, the process is still infused with professionals’ intervention, power and control. The article uses data from family group conferences to demonstrate families’ satisfaction with the process and the high engagement of fathers in conferences. Moreover, the data show sustainable positive outcomes six months after conferences had taken place.

Keywords: family group conferences; FGC; U.K.; United Kingdom; Wales; children; fathers; gender; empowerment; decision making; professionals; private family time

Morris, A., Maxwell, G., Hudson, J., & Galaway, B. (1996).
Concluding thoughts. In J. Hudson, A. Morris, G. Maxwell, & B. Galaway (Eds.), Family group conferences: Perspectives on policy and practice (pp. 221-234).

Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

This article addresses the successes and challenges of family group decision making (FGDM). FGDM has the ability to cross cultural boundaries, shift thinking from blaming parents to supporting families, and increase communication between and among family members and community supporters. The article indicates that FGDM is more likely to give disadvantaged individuals a voice than are traditional dispute resolution formats. Some of the continued challenges addressed were location of services and the criteria of referrals within FGDM. The article explains that it can be hard for child welfare professionals to transform from “policing” to “facilitating” roles in the FGDM process. If child welfare professionals are not willing to make the necessary changes in their practice styles, FGDM becomes a mechanism of controlling families rather than supporting them. The tools families need to be successful in FGDM are appropriate and realistic services, trained child welfare professionals who are committed to the goals of FGDM, the inclusion of all necessary family members in meetings, a supportive environment, space for families to make their own decisions and the effective monitoring of plans and outcomes.

Keywords: family group decision making; FGDM; family group conferencing; FGC; culture; restorative justice

Smith, D. (1996, October).
Child sexual abuse in the context of family decision making.

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

In New Zealand, the initial response to child abuse cases was to remove children from their families. In 1987, research by the Department of Social Services revealed sexual abuse of children while in the care of the state, which lead to questioning the safety of children in out-of-home care. In 1986, the Maori people reported to a Ministerial Advisory Committee that “the Maori child is not to be viewed in isolation, or even as part of a nuclear family, but as a member of a wider kin group,” That report jump-started the concept of family decision making. This article describes three phases of family group conferencing. Furthermore, the article points out the complex issue of adolescent sexual offenders who might be victims of sexual abuse themselves, which requires a separate conference to address the issue.

Keywords: family group conference; FGC; sexual abuse; New Zealand; children; family; care; welfare

Unger, W., & Fatzinger, C. (2006).
Awakening the collective power: The implementation of FGDM in Pennsylvania.

Protecting Children, 21(1), 39-44.

This article chronicles Pennsylvania’s journey of implementation and expansion of family group decision making, including preliminary evaluation results. Pennsylvania’s family group decision making model is based on the family unity model and the family group conferencing model, and is focused on strengths, widening the family group and collectively making decisions. family group decision making was first implemented in Pennsylvania in 1999, and the number of counties implementing family group decision making has grown to 20 out of 67(by the time of publication), with more interested. This article also explores the cross-system implementation of family group decision making in juvenile probation, mental health, corrections, aging and faith-based communities.

Keywords: evaluation; Pennsylvania; cross-system; implementation; family group conferencing; FGC; family unity model

Pennell, J., & Burford, G. (1996).
Attending to context: Family group decision making in Canada. In J. Hudson, A. Morris, G. Maxwell, & B. Galaway (Eds.), Family group conferences: Perspectives on policy and practice (pp. 206-220).

Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

In this chapter, the authors describe the preliminary findings from the family group decision making project in Nain, an Inuit community on the north coast of Labrador, the Port au Port Peninsula, in Western Newfoundland and St. John’s, Canada. The chapter relates how traditional responses to family violence were limited in their outcomes and that family group decision making is a culturally adaptable approach that results in better resolutions. The family group decision making process preserves family pride and offers the opportunity to family members to support each other. Family members found that the process was a success when they were able to move from a sense of personal shame and helplessness to family pride and efficacy.

Keywords: family group decision making; FGDM; Canada; Nain; Inuit Community; Port au Port; St. John’s; Newfoundland; Labrador; shame; pride; family; domestic violence

Schmid, J., & Goranson, S. (2003).
An evaluation of family group conferencing in Toronto.

Protecting Children, 18(1&2), 110-112.

This article briefly explores the results of a three-year pilot project in west Toronto to evaluate family group conferencing with 25 families. The research team focused on model and partnership development, preparation of agency staff and community partners, the processes for initiating and managing referrals, and the actual family group conference.

Keywords: Toronto; Canada; evaluation; family group conferencing; FGC; pilot

Connolly, M. (1994).
An act of empowerment: The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act (1989).

British Journal of Social Work, 24(1), 87-100.

This article depicts the limited success of social services in New Zealand before the enactment of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act of 1989. New Zealand was following the international trend of using fostering and institutional care as a way to provide care and safety for children. In comparison with this approach, the act recognizes the cultural strength of whanau, hapu and iwi, empowering kin networks to care for their children. Moreover, the author underlines some ambiguities in the act, such as not defining serious deprivation of children. In addition, the act fails to determine the threshold for calling for a family group conference.

Keywords: New Zealand; family group conference; FGC; Maori; Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act; culture; Department of Social Welfare; child; safety; abuse; decision making

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