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





Helland, J. (2005, October).
Family group conferencing literature review.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: University of Victoria, International Institute for Child Rights and Development.

This literature review was prepared for the Child and Youth Officer for British Columbia. The author organizes the review around descriptions and applications of family group conferencing; literature that reports the experiences of children, youth, families, social workers and other stakeholders; and process and planning outcomes.

Keywords: Columbia; child welfare; literature review

Harris, N. (2008).
Family group conferencing in Australia 15 years on (Child Abuse Prevention Issue, No. 27).

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

This article is a synopsis of a 2007 report by the same author that mapped the adoption of conferencing in child protection systems across Australia. Developed from a 2005 workshop sponsored by the Australian Centre for Child Protection, it provides a comparison of the implementation and use of conferencing in Australian states and territories and discusses the implementation of conferencing in Australia relative to the approach as developed in New Zealand. The article makes implications for ways that conferences can better contribute to broader child protection goals.

Keywords: review, Australia, child welfare

Sundell, K. (2003).
Family group conferences in Sweden -- continuing social services programs for children and parents [English Summary].

Retrieved December 9, 2008, from

This summary from Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare reports on an evaluation of an early trial of family group conferences in 10 local authorities across Sweden, later published by Sundell and Vinnerljung (2004). The summary reports a comparison between children involved in family group conferences (N = 97) and a random sample of children receiving traditional child welfare services (N = 142), following them over a three-year period, post-conference. Children receiving a family group conference were somewhat more frequently rereferred for suspected abuse, but neglect rereferrals were the same for both groups of children. More of the family group conference children were placed with kin, but the majority was nevertheless placed in nonrelative care (79 percent). The children receiving a conference were somewhat more frequently continuing to receive interventions after three years, but interventions more frequently progressed from placements to noncustodial care. The researcher suggests that the type of model applied (i.e., family group conference or conventional models) minimally explained the variance in outcome measurement. The author recognizes both the limitations of the research methodology and the challenges faced by child welfare in resolving issues of child maltreatment. In regards to the quasi-experimental design, Sundell identifies significant difficulties in determining the impact of family group conferencing as the analysis may not have adequately controlled for the conference referrals having more indicators for child maltreatment than the comparison groups. Poor follow-through of the conference plans was also identified as a possible explanation for the results. Overall, the author points to the challenges confronting child welfare in supporting good outcomes for children, noting that the children receiving traditional interventions in the study (the comparison group) demonstrated limited success.

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

Hayden, C. (2004).
Family group conferences in education- evaluating outcomes: Executive summary.

Portsmouth, England: University of Portsmouth, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies.

The Hampshire Family Group Conferences in Education project in England provides family-led decision making meetings for children and young people with significant problems in school and school attendance. This executive summary reports on a quasi-experimental study. The study involved 41 young people who received family group conferences and 37 young people who received traditional intervention in 2003. Key informants for the study said family group conferences offered a positive way to address problems in schools. The study found an increased “normality” in young people’s behavior and a sense of reduced “burden” for parents and teachers where family group conferences were convened. The study also found that the control group had better results for school attendance. However, the results need to be tempered since the conference group illustrated more overall problematic behavior than the control group both before and after the conference. The author suggests that family group conferences may not be more effective than other services but may be more appropriate in certain circumstances.

Keywords: outcome evaluation, pre/post-comparison, education, Hampshire, United Kingdom, U.K., England, quasi-experimental

Barn, R., Das, C., Sawyerr, A. (2009, April)
Family group conferences and black and minority ethnic families: An evaluation study of two community-based organisations in London.

Family group conferences and black and minority ethnic families: An evaluation study of two community-based organisations in London. London: Family Rights Group.

This report presents the summary findings of an evaluation of a project between the Family Rights Group and two community-based organizations working with black and minority ethnic groups in London: Hopscotch, Camden, and Claudia Jones, Hackney. The project sought to examine why family group conferencing had such a low use among minority families and how this could be improved. A research team from Royal Holloway, University of London was commissioned to evaluate the merits and difficulties of using community-based organizations to run family group conferences among different minority communities and to consider wider good practice across the country. The evaluation used a combination of existing data available to the projects (i.e., family profiles) and evidence from interviews with family members, a detailed questionnaire for families in family group conferences, interviews with coordinators and staff from both projects, focus-group discussions with London-wide family group conference coordinators and managers, and observation of the family group conferencing process. Findings from the research were then divided and analyzed from the perspective of families and practitioners. Overall, the findings suggest that embedding family group conferencing in social services could be very beneficial for minority families, but the availability of sufficient financial and human resources for implementing and coordinating family group conferences cannot be underestimated.

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

Brodie, K. A. (2008).
Family group conference: An exploratory study describing the relationship between an internal agency environment and the process.

Doctoral dissertation, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

This retrospective study of one California county’s child welfare services examined the internal agency factors promoting and inhibiting family group conferencing and the reasons for the program’s discontinuation after eight years of operation. The independent variable, the internal agency environment, included agency resources, supervisor expectations, worker attitudes and beliefs, and caseload responsibilities. The dependent variable, family group conferencing, encompassed conference referrals, coordination (preparation), facilitation and follow-up. Sixty-six child protection staff members who had worked at the agency during the years of family group conferencing implementation were surveyed and more in-depth interviews were conducted with seven staff members. The study reported moderately positive and statistically significant (at .05 or higher) relationships between aspects of the internal agency environment and the family group conferencing process. The strongest relationships were between agency resources and facilitation, supervisor expectations and coordination, and social worker attitudes and facilitation and coordination. Unexpectedly, caseload responsibilities did not relate significantly to the family group conferencing process. During the interviews, staff identified factors impeding family group conferencing delivery in a public child welfare agency: operating in crisis mode, pragmatically using any method that appeared to work and some parents refusing to include relatives in decision making. They attributed the program’s discontinuation to changes in funding and state and federal mandates leading to changes in agency management. Family group conferencing was replaced by another model called team decision making, which was seen as less costly in resources and more rapidly responsive to emergencies. Overall, the interviewees characterized family group conferencing, especially private family time, as empowering families to make better decisions about their children.

Keywords: California, US; child welfare; delivery system; program evaluation; process evaluation; qualitative data; quantitative data

O’Sullivan, B., McKinney, A., & Gallagher, S. (2002).
Family group conference pilot project.

Belfast, Northern Ireland: North Western Health Board.

This evaluation of an Irish pilot project assesses the applicability of family group conferencing as a partnership-based model to promote and enhance child-centered and family-focused practice. The authors were particularly interested in assessing what modifications to the family group conferencing model were necessary for application in their region. The evaluation draws on cross-sectional postal questionnaire surveys and semi-structured interviews with family members, children and professionals who participated in the first six of 10 family welfare conferences. High levels of satisfaction are reported from family and professionals about the experience, including the plans for the children, the provision of information to the family, the degree to which the meetings were child-focused and the fit between the practice principles and other services employing partnership and inclusive practices.

Keywords: Republic of Ireland, Ireland, qualitative, quantitative, process evaluation, implementation stage

Laws, S., & Kirby, P. (2007).
Under the table or at the table: Supporting children and families in family group conferences – a summary of the Daybreak research.

Brighton and Hove Children and Young People’s Trust. Retrieved December 9, 2008, from

This research was commissioned by the service provider to explore the learning coming from their provision. The evaluation considers the practices of advocates with 10 families who used the family group conferencing service. The family members were interviewed. Within the sample were families that had a professional advocate, families that used a family advocate and a family that refused the offer of an advocate. The research suggests that there is a tension between family advocates (who may be most responsive but may not be impartial) and professional advocates (who can offer neutral support but may disrupt the family time). The report arrives at a series of recommendations for the use and practices of advocates. These include ensuring that the role of the advocate is fully understood and informed consent is obtained, eliciting and supporting the child’s views and careful training that includes separating the differing tasks of assessment and advocacy.

Keywords: U.K., United Kingdom, Brighton and Hove, child welfare, child participation, developmental, program evaluation, qualitative case study, qualitative data

Pennell, J., Edwards, M., & Burford, G. (2010).
Expedited family group engagement and child permanency.

Children and Youth Services Review, 32(7), 1012-1019.

This study in Washington, D.C., evaluated the impact of family team meetings on children’s permanency. The meetings were convened within 72 hours after an emergency removal to give the family group the opportunity for input into the plan while still ensuring due process for parents in court. This program commenced in January 2005, making it possible to compare the outcomes for the 454 children who had a family team meeting with those of the 140 children from the period just before start-up and with the 195 children who did not receive a family team meeting after start-up. The children in the three groups were similar in terms of age, sex, race and ethnicity, but the family team meeting group had a lower rate of diagnosed disabilities. In terms of the reason for entering care, the three groups were also similar on rates of neglect or sexual abuse, but the family team meeting group had a greater likelihood of physical abuse. Using data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, a number of statistically significant differences in outcomes were found. The family team meeting children were more likely to be placed in relative foster care, have family-group-type permanency goals in their case plans (e.g., reunify with parents or live with relatives), have shorter stays in care and be discharged to their parents or kin.

Keywords: Washington, D.C; USA; child welfare; child permanency; developmental stage; program evaluation; quasiexperimental design; quantitative

Sheets, J., Wittenstrom, K., Fong, R., James, J., Tecci, M., Baumann, D. J., et al. (2009).
Evidence-based practice in family group decision-making for Anglo, African American and Hispanic families.

Children and Youth Services Review, 31(11), 1187-1191.

This study frames family group conferencing as theoretically compatible with evidence-based practice and approaches that emphasize cultural competence in its focus on having parents as informed participants in the provision of services. Using survey data collected from parents, relatives and children's caregivers along with case demographic and outcome data from the state's case management system, the study compares family group conferencing with standard practice using reported satisfaction, measures of child well-being and data on exit from care. Parents and other family members who attend a family group conference reported higher satisfaction than those who attended permanency plan team meetings where the authors report that family members are generally outnumbered by staff members and other professionals. Relatives in particular reported feeling more empowered with family group conferencing. Given the finding that children placed in relatives' homes were reported being more adjusted if their family had attended a family group conference, the authors speculate that both having a family conference and being placed in a relative's home contributed to their adjustment. Outcome findings of faster exits from care and increased exits to reunification were associated with all families who had a family group conference, but these findings were especially pronounced for Hispanic and African American children, whose exits from care have traditionally been slower than for White children.

Keywords: family group decision making; family group conferences; evidence-based practice; child welfare; quantitative and qualitative data; quasiexperimental design


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