Family-Engagement Strategies in Child Welfare International Review: Annotated Bibliography

Introduction, Principles and Processes

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The Contexts


The Studies


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Methods of Review


Team Member Bios





Titcomb, A., & LeCroy, C. (2003).
Evaluation of Arizona’s family group decision making program.

Protecting Children, 18(1 & 2), 58-64.

This article provides a brief overview of the interim results from a three-year process-and-outcomes evaluation for the family group decision making program in Arizona. The evaluation found an increased percentage of family placements and a decreased percentage in foster placements subsequent to family group decision making meetings. The evaluation also found high rates of completion of plans, satisfaction among families who participated, families feeling that they played the main role in decision making and families feeling listened to and confident in their children’s safety. Preliminary results suggested that 87 percent of children did not have a substantiated report of abuse or neglect following the meeting.

Keywords: Arizona, United States, U.S., process evaluation, outcome evaluation, child placement, child welfare, child safety

Glode, J., & Wien, F. (2007).
Evaluating the family group conferencing approach in a First Nations context.

In C. Chamberland, S. Léveillé, & N. Trocmé (Eds.), Enfants à proteger, parents à aider, des univers à rapprocher (pp. 264-276). Quebec City, Canada: Presses de l'Université de Québec.

This report highlights early findings from an evaluation of family group conferences with the Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services in Nova Scotia, Canada. Working with child welfare personnel, the researchers selected 166 families that were thought to be appropriate for a family group conference. From that pool, they randomly selected 50 to approach about participating in the study. Some families declined to participate and they were left with 28 families, who were then randomly assigned to a family group conference or non-family group conference intervention group that they termed the Nova Scotia mainstream provincial approach. Although the early findings focus on implementation and process issues, they indicate potential benefits of family group conferences. Participants positively responded to the family group conference model. Participants saw the benefits of the this model as placing decision making in the control of the families, allowing time for everyone to speak and improving relationships between families and the child protection service. The authors suggested that the process elicit more in-depth and holistic information, which led to better familiarity with the issues in the case and the ability to make more appropriate decisions for the children and their families. Cultural leaders were particularly proud of the revitalization of Mi'kmaw cultural practices. Some of the early implementation issues that were uncovered included the initial lack of familiarity with the process, scheduling issues and acclimating the family group conference model to Mi'kmaw culture.

Keywords: Canada, Nova Scotia, indigenous, experimental design, child welfare, process evaluation, qualitative data

Wheeler, C. E., & Johnson, S. (2003).
Evaluating family group decision making: The Santa Clara example.

Protecting Children, 18(1 & 2), 65-69.

This brief summary of a comprehensive evaluation of the Santa Clara County family group conference and family unity meetings provides evidence that children who had family group conferences had better outcomes than children who did not. The study was based on a process, outcome and cost-benefit-analysis evaluation conducted in 1999. Children who had family group conferences had better stability of placement in kinship care and shorter periods in care. The conference participants also rated their experience highly, stating they believed it helped promote positive and effective solutions. The authors also found that family group conferences were cost-neutral.

Keywords: United States, U.S., California, process evaluation, outcome study, child welfare, child permanency, child placement, quasi-experimental design, cost evaluation

Falck, S. (2008).
Do family group conferences lead to a better situation for the children involved?

Oslo, Norway: NOVA (Norwegian Social Research), Ministry of Education and Research.

This study from Norway reports on outcomes for children immediately after attending a family group conference and one year later. Conducted from 2003 to 2006, the study used a nonrandom comparison group, selected by child protection workers, of families who met the criteria for a family group conference referral but were served by other child protection interventions. The level of problem seriousness was similar for the family group conference and comparison groups during the pre-test period. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used, including interviews of parents; questionnaires distributed to child protection workers, conference coordinators, parents, children over eight years old, and teachers; and a review of outcomes based on family group conference action plans, or for the comparison group, child protection plans. Family members reported satisfaction with the process and a high level of father involvement was found. Overall, the study reports positive outcomes for those children who had participated in a family group conference, in terms of their level of problems and their improved care and support. The action plans for the two groups showed greater mobilization of family networks for the family group conference group than for the comparison group.

Keywords: Norway, child welfare, outcome evaluation, quasi-experimental design, quantitative data

Lorentzen, B. L. (2009).
Effects of family group decision making in a voluntary family maintenance program.

Dissertation Abstracts International A. Humanities and Social Sciences, 69 (09), 3743. (UMI No. 3331701)

This study examines the effects of family group decision making on service use over time. The data were drawn from an experimental study conducted in Fresno County, Calif., of a voluntary program for families with substantiated child maltreatment. The sample included 58 families randomly assigned to an experimental group or a control group. The two groups were similar in terms of number of children, race/ethnicity and risk factors. No statistically significant differences were found between the experimental and control groups in terms of worker contacts, prescribed services started and reasons for case closure. The experimental group was twice as likely as the control group to have cases closed because of refusal of service; however, the difference was not statistically significant, and the confidence interval was quite wide, indicating a lack of precision in estimation. The author notes that results might have been contaminated because the same workers had families in both groups, and further speculates that families might have needed more than a one-time meeting because of changes in their situations. In conclusion, the author proposes that more rigorous research is needed before expanding family group decision making beyond its current sites.

Keywords: California; US; child welfare; delivery system; program evaluation; randomized control trial; quantitative data

Connolly, M. (2004).
Convening family group conferences: Coordinators talk about professional issues.

Social Work Review, 16, 8-10.

This article represents a small qualitative study examining the professional issues experienced by care and protection coordinators who have been convening family group conferences since the early years of the New Zealand legislation. Coordinators talk about the issues that impact their practice within the contemporary environment. In particular, this research focuses on issues relating to the changing nature of the coordinating role within the child protection system and on professional issues such as supervision and training. While fiscal pressures, high staff turnover and increased experiences of violence affect the coordinator’s role in a variety of ways, coordinators nevertheless talked with enthusiasm about working with family-led decision-making.

Keywords: qualitative, New Zealand, child welfare, role of coordinator, child safety

Connolly, M. (2005).
Consulting with care and protection resource panels: Coordinators’ perspectives.

Te Awatea Review, 3(1), 9-11.

This article discusses the establishment of care and protection resource panels in New Zealand and the processes of consultation provided for in the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act (1989). It then reports the findings of a study that examined, from the perspective of the care and protection coordinator, the process of the coordinators’ consultation with care and protection resource panels, and the consultation’s perceived value and contribution to the coordinators’ work. Findings suggest that there is variability in the constituency, the perceived value of panels and the ways in which consultation takes place. Overall, while some coordinators talked positively about panels as a professional support, none found the advice useful with respect to convening the family group conference. The article then discusses the implications of these findings with respect to consultation with coordinators and more broadly, with social workers.

Keywords: role of coordinator, qualitative, child welfare, New Zealand, child safety

Morris, K. (2007, September).
Camden FGC service: An evaluation of service use and outcomes.

Retrieved December 9, 2008, from

This study considers the establishment of the local authority family group conferencing service, and traces the outcomes for those using the service. The study covers the period 2001 to 2006 and draws on all the family plans produced during this time, alongside the tracing of family members to capture their outcomes and a series of detailed case studies. The data demonstrates a significant reduction in the use of formal proceedings. Evidence indicates the use of family networks to care for children, to provide support and protection and to meet the needs of children to maintain connections. The study also suggests that family plans reveal family practices and that families use the opportunities of a family group conference to demonstrate their commitment of care.

Keywords: U.K., United Kingdom, Camden, child welfare, child well-being, delivery system, implementation stage, program evaluation, process evaluation, qualitative data

O’Shaughnessy, R., Collins, C., & Fatimilehin, I. (2009).
Building bridges in Liverpool: Exploring the use of family group conferences for black and minority ethnic children and their families.

British Journal of Social Work, 39(1), 1-16.

This article draws on research gathered during a 2001 British evaluation of the use of family group conferencing in meeting the psychological and mental health needs of black and minority ethnic children and their families. The authors argue that few studies, national or international, have focused specifically on this group’s views and experiences, even though the family group conferencing model emerged as an ethnically and culturally sensitive intervention. Using evidence from two cases in which family group conferencing was used with minority families, the researchers conclude that family group conferencing is an effective and beneficial tool in preventing family breakdown and meeting the needs of children and families, but that using family group conferencing is not a straightforward process. Its main strengths are that it is culturally respectful and promotes the voice of the family over the voice of the professional. However, for the model to reach its full potential, the article states, organizations need to ensure that sufficient preparations be made. These preparations include taking into account minority families’ first operating language and consulting with participants, as groups, on the main issues they would like to see addressed. The article concludes that family group conferencing is a positive model for working with minority families but for further research is needed to fully understand the benefits of its application, including comparisons with other mechanisms and how different families from different communities would react to family group conferencing.

Keywords: UK; child welfare; black and minority ethnic; evaluation; mixed methods

Cameron, M. (2006).
Alternate dispute resolution: Aboriginal models and practices: Literature review.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Ministry of Children and Family Development.

This paper provides a brief overview of aboriginal alternative dispute models and how they differ from western alternative dispute models. The paper gives a synopsis of 12 examples of aboriginal alternative dispute models used in jurisdictions within Canada, the United States and Australia. The paper outlines some common planning and procedural elements, and underlying values between the examples given. The author goes on to discuss the tension between western and aboriginal thinking, where the former assumes universality and the latter acknowledges difference. The author argues that indigenous models of conflict resolution are moving into a more accepted phase, where they are no longer tokenistic and superficial. The author concludes by advocating for models of practice which the community has agreed to engage with, based on the models’ ability to meet the community’s cultural needs.

Keywords: anada; British Columbia; indigenous; aboriginal; child welfare; literature review


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