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





Sawyer, R. Q., & Lohrbach, S. (2008, January).
Olmsted County Child and Family Services: Family involvement strategies.

Rochester, MN: Olmsted County Child and Family Services.

Drawing on multi-year (1996-2007) secondary statistics and survey results (2004-2006), the authors associate the increased use of a range of family involvement strategies with a variety of positive outcomes, including reduced use of court, timely case resolution, increased use of kin and family placements, reduction in new findings of abuse and neglect, and positive safety outcomes.

Keywords: United States, U.S., Minnesota, Olmsted County, child welfare, child safety, quantitative data, qualitative data, developmental stage, pre/post-comparisons

Ministry of Children and Family Development, Vancouver Coastal Region, Collaborative Practice Team. (2008, April).
Family case planning conferencing: Pilot project evaluation.

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

This exploratory study reports administrative data and qualitative analysis of focus groups and case files associated with a six-month use of family case planning conferencing (FCPC) in the Vancouver Coastal Region of British Columbia, Canada. The conferences were modeled on Olmsted County, Minnesota’s use of FCPC. Thirty-one conferences were held. The authors recommended the continued use of FCPC as a useful option between the more professionally driven integrated case management meetings and the more family-led family group conferences. The approach is recommended as particularly useful in intake and other situations that operate on tight timelines.

Keywords: Canada, British Columbia, indigenous, child welfare, qualitative, quantitative

Huntsman, L. (2006).
Family group conferencing in a child welfare context.

Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia: Centre for Parenting & Research, Funding & Business Analysis Division NSW Department of Community Services.

The author organizes this detailed literature review around history of family group conferencing; variations on the approach; suitability of family group conferencing for culturally diverse and indigenous communities; roles and attitudes of participants, including family, children, young people and professionals; the effectiveness of family group conferencing; implications for policy and practice; and recommendations for future research.

Keywords: Australia; child welfare; indigenous; literature review

Kiely, P., & Bussey, K. (2001).
Family group conferencing: A longitudinal evaluation.

Sydney, Australia: Macquarie University.

This longitudinal study from New South Wales, Australia, reports the outcomes for children and families three and a half years, on average, after they had participated in a family group conference. The group was compared with a sample of similar families who were subject to traditional case planning procedures. Statutory service files for the 30 randomly selected families which comprised the two groups were analyzed and coded for both qualitative and quantitative data that included family characteristics, risk factors, types of abuse and outcomes for both groups. Compared with traditional case planning methods, results from family group conferences generate additional kinship foster care and respite for children of families reported for abuse and neglect. Younger children were more likely to benefit from this support. Extended family support was not found to reduce the need for community support, especially for youths 12 years and older. Reduction of reports to statutory service post-conference was taken as evidence that welfare and safety of children were not compromised by family group conferencing. Outcomes for youth entering their teen years were the least successful in the study. The family group conferencing model is seen as being dependent on the availability and consistency of suitable and easily accessible resources from both the family and community through these teens’ most challenging circumstances.

Keywords: Australia, quasi-experimental design, child welfare, child safety, quantitative and qualitative, outcome study

Kemp, T. (2007).
Family welfare conferences – the Wexford experience: An evaluation of Barnardos family welfare conference project.

Ballincollig, Republic of Ireland: Nucleus.

This report draws from a literature review and semi-structured interviews with professionals and family members associated with family welfare conferences that took place in County Wexford, Republic of Ireland, between 2003 and 2005. The author explores specific operational and managerial features, the practices and processes, and the themes that emerged from project outcomes in this research and in two administrative reports previously prepared for the project. This report is a rich source of information about the pilot project. The author calls attention to the challenges of isolating the sole effect of a meeting even in the face of highly positive reports of the experiences of most people involved and the clear role the meetings play in creating a climate for improved relationships and related matters. A detailed audit of emerging themes, observations and recommendations is offered. This report is the product of an in-depth reflection of the views and observations of a wide range of stakeholders in the project.

Keywords: Republic of Ireland, Ireland, Wexford, literature review, interviews, process evaluation, qualitative, implementation stage

Holland, S., Scourfield, J., O’Neill, S., & Pithouse, 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.

This article represents findings from a small, qualitative study of family group conferencing in Wales. The research explored the potential for the family group conference to shift the power balance between the state and families involved in the family group conference and to democratize decision-making within families. Twenty-five children and young people were interviewed within one month of their conferences and were re-interviewed six months later. Participating adult family members, social workers and coordinators were also interviewed. The research indicates that while professionals are generally committed to the philosophy and process of family group conferencing, in practice, there are a number of ways in which professionals retain some control over the decision-making process. The study provides positive signs regarding the involvement of children, father figures and extended family members within the family group conference. That said, while most children felt listened to, only a small number felt they had influenced the outcome significantly. The authors report that, in general, families were positive about their conference experience. Interestingly, however, the authors reported some family resistance to aspects that have been seen as empowering components of the family group conference; in particular, the use of private family time, while universally supported by professionals, had a mixed response from families. Despite the mix of findings with respect to conferences as democratizing processes, the authors tentatively conclude that the family group conference nevertheless has potential to both model and promote democracy within family relationships.

Keywords: United Kingdom, U.K., Wales, child participation, child welfare, qualitative data

Holland, S., Aziz, Q., & Robinson, A. (2007).
The development of an all-Wales evaluation tool for family group conferences: Final research report.

Cardiff, Wales: Cardiff University.

This paper provides a comprehensive map of the family group conference intervention occurring in Wales. It pioneers a way to collect basic conference outcome and output data at a national level across disparate projects undertaking family group conference intervention. The project consulted stakeholders to design and pilot a questionnaire to collect basic data across an all-Wales family group conference network. As a national picture, the study found that approximately 200 family group conferences occur each year in Wales, and they include an average of 7.5 family members (including two children) and two professionals. In the main, the conferences aimed to address family support issues. One-third aimed to protect children. The study also found that the participants were broadly satisfied with the objectives met during the family group conference, although the data from the six-month follow-up suggested a more measured rate of satisfaction with meeting the conference objectives in the long-term.

Keywords: Wales, United Kingdom, U.K., child welfare, qualitative

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 provides a brief overview of the several group decision making models used within the child protection system in Santa Clara County, Calif., including team decision making, family group conferencing, child protection mediation, wraparound services, emancipation conferences and information sharing. The authors put forward three suppositions: 1) decisions made in groups offer more robust judgments for the welfare of children and families, 2) groups including family and community members produce better decisions than groups including only professionals, and 3) a complement of different group decision making models provides better options for use in different circumstances within the child protection field.

Keywords: California; United States; U.S.; child welfare; literature review

Duke University, Center for Child and Family Policy, Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy. (2007, September).
Improving child welfare outcomes through system of care: Family centered meeting survey report 2005-2006

Alamance, Bladen, and Mecklenburg Counties, North Carolina. Durham, NC: Author.

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of system of care and multiple response system principles in four types of family-centered meetings: 1) child and family teams (required for high- and intensive-risk cases to engage families in service planning); 2) team decision making (used to make placement decisions); 3) permanency planning action teams (legally required for cases in which a child is in the custody of social services, in order to demonstrate a reasonable effort for ensuring a safe, permanent home for the child); and 4) shared parenting meetings (required to connect biological and foster parents early in foster placements). The counties that participated were Alamance, Bladen and Mecklenburg. Surveys were given out at meetings with a facilitator present and cases with a rating of high or intensive risk. However, surveys were not given at every meeting that was facilitated. Facilitators completed a meeting summary form at the start of the meeting, which includes meeting type and who did and did not attend. Facilitators gave surveys to each person present at the meeting, when the meeting was finished. Facilitators also provided information on meeting length. In 2005 and 2006, participants reported agreement on the four scales regarding child and family teams and team decision making: 1) the fidelity of the process; 2) feeling engaged in the process; 3) seeing the goals as being met; and 4) participants’ understanding of their roles. With some exception, ratings on these scales tended to improve from 2005 to 2006. Child and family team meetings tended to have higher model fidelity ratings than permanency planning action team meetings. In both years studied, parents gave significantly higher ratings for “participation” at child and family teams than at team decision making meetings, but in the second year, foster parents rated their satisfaction significantly higher in team decision making meetings than in child and family teams. Longer meetings were associated with lower ratings. Participants suggested that meetings could be improved by better attendance of parents and other team members, more preparation of participants, and making other arrangements, such as providing snacks and child care.

Keywords: United States, U.S., North Carolina, child welfare, service delivery, developmental stage, program evaluation, process evaluation, qualitative data, quantitative data

Brady, B. (2006, October).
Facilitating family decision making: A study of the family welfare conference service in the HSE Western Area.

Galway, Ireland: National University of Ireland, Department of Political Science and Health Service Executive, Child & Family Research and Policy Unit. Retrieved December 2, 2008, from

This document is a compendium of three reports completed as part of an overall study of the Family Welfare Conference Service in the Health Service Executive Western Area for Counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon in the Republic of Ireland. It includes a literature review, an implementation report and an evaluation report. The literature review outlines the origins of the family group conference/family welfare conference model and describes its key features, principles and theoretical basis. The author identifies from the international literature a set of issues including the legal basis for family group conferencing, the degree to which empowerment principles of family group conferencing can be realized within a bureaucratic system and the role of family group conferencing in child protection case conferences. The implementation report describes the early development of the family welfare conference service in the region and outlines relevant administrative statistics up to the end of August 2004, including the number of referrals, conferences and reviews; referral sources and reasons; numbers and ages of children involved; costs of conferences; average time for coordination; conference venues; and other relevant process information. The evaluation report focuses on the perspectives of key stakeholders including family members, referrers, coordinators and senior personnel of childcare services. Themes explored include perceived outcomes and benefits of the service, the role and place of the family welfare conferencing service in the child care system and process and practice issues arising in the implementation. Recommendations are given for future development of the service. The consensus among stakeholders is that the model is most effective in early intervention, and while there is a broad openness to the model’s use in child protection and alternative care cases, core staff feel that it is currently under-used in these arenas.

Keywords: Republic of Ireland, Ireland, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, literature review, implementation stage, program evaluation, process evaluation, cost analysis


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