Introduction, Principles and Processes

Introduction, Principles and Processes

View the printable bibliography

The Contexts


The Studies

Use the search field below to find studies in the annotated bibliography.


Methods of Review


Team Member Bios





Gale Burford
University of Vermont, United States

We are pleased to share this annotated bibliography with you. It is one part of a larger review of studies of family engagement and decision making in child welfare being carried out by a small, international team: Marie Connolly, Kate Morris, Joan Pennell and me. You can find brief biographical information about us, along with our individual email addresses, under Team Member Bios. To orient you to this bibliography and to the overall review, each of us has included a brief introduction here. Marie comments on some of the important issues in comparing child welfare practices across cultures and legislative and policy contexts (The Contexts), Kate gives an overview of the studies we have reviewed thus far (The Studies), and Joan describes how we are going about the larger review (Methods of Review).

We have developed a process to regularly update this annotated bibliography by continuing to collect and review studies. In this way, we see the bibliography as an electronic resource that will continue to be built over time. We welcome your suggestions and inquiries. You may send additional studies for consideration to Kate Morris at Feel free to contact any of us and watch this space for ongoing updates, with new annotations. At the time of this posting (February 2009), we already have more than 20 additional studies and reports to review.

Many people deserve credit for helping this work along and we have identified them in the Acknowledgments section. We wish to give special acknowledgment to the Children’s Division of the American Humane Association for its tremendous assistance in posting requests for studies, supporting our cross-national collaboration and encouraging dissemination of our findings. American Humane’s annual conference on family group decision making has made it possible for us to check with researchers and practitioners from the United States and other countries on the conduct of this review. These discussions have kept us abreast of current issues and encouraged us to go back and forth between synthesizing and sharing the evidence in an iterative manner. This annotated bibliography is one means of furthering this process.

This project was given a considerable boost when, during the final assembly session at the annual American Humane conference in June 2007, in Washington, D.C., someone called for a greater focus on research. This sentiment was also strongly expressed in the written conference feedback. It was reiterated that people had found the 2003 special issue of Protecting Children (a synopsis of FGDM research) to be especially helpful and wanted to see something further about what the research has been saying since then.

We have long been mindful that family group conferencing enthusiasts, as Judge Mick Brown, former New Zealand principal youth court judge once described himself, have said from the start that research was going to be necessary to convince legislators, policymakers and others that “it works.” This theme was noted in two international, online surveys (Burford, Morris, & Nixon, 2007; Nixon, Burford, & Quinn, 2005). Practitioners around the globe, like so many who attend the international conferences on family group decision making, want to see the value of their work, and what they believe are positive outcomes with families, made visible. Their enthusiasm is well-grounded in their experiences with families. Professor James Whittaker once described family group conferencing as “perhaps the most intriguing child welfare innovation to arise in the last quarter century” (Whittaker, 2000). He identified the following six “key questions for planners and practitioners,” which are still relevant and timely:

  • What was the specific cultural context within which the service innovation arose and what are the cultural requisites that sustain it at present in its culture of origin?
  • What modifications will likely need to be made if the innovation is to be adopted in another country or culture?
  • What is the valuative and empirical-evidential base for the innovation, and what questions should inform the next generation of studies on its efficacy?
  • What are the points of potential conflict and complementarity between the service innovation and the existing service continuum?
  • What will likely be the key issues in implementation, and what “network of champions” will be there to sustain the innovation during the critical phase of its introduction?
  • By what outcome measure(s) will the innovation be adjudged a success? (pp. xi – xii)

Here we now stand some nine years on from Professor Whittaker’s words and 20 years after the introduction of family group conferencing in New Zealand. We are challenged to thoroughly review the evidence.

To get our review started, we issued an invitation in November 2007, through American Humane’s National Center on Family Group Decision Making, and through our own professional contacts internationally, to help us locate all relevant evaluation and research on including the family group in child welfare and child protection decision-making processes. We decided to take an inclusive approach to the review. This means we were, and are, interested in reading reports and studies that cover a wide range of theories, designs, methods and approaches to family engagement in child welfare decision making.

First, the review team met to see the “lay of the land.” We sorted the submissions by country. We felt strongly from the beginning that we would prefer to read original research reports, even if they needed to be translated into English, than to read publications or executive summaries that had been extrapolated from those reports. Of course, this is not always possible. It was then that we decided to make the annotated bibliography a first step in a larger systematic review and to note in each annotation the original source if we were reading from a secondary one. It was also during that time that we began using the term “family engagement” as short-hand to describe the scope of the enquiry. We are interested in any report or study from which we can understand further:

  • What happens when families are involved in decision making;
  • What happens to children when families are involved in decision making; and
  • What happens to systems when families are involved in decision making.

One purpose in presenting summaries of the studies we are reviewing is to engage you in the discussion. We hope that in reading the annotations you may be stimulated to refine your own questions about the work and join in conversations and exchanges with your colleagues and others to deepen our collective understanding of family engagement in child welfare decision making.

The next steps include writing a literature review specifically aimed at practitioners; continuing to identify research articles that we could recommend for publication in peer-reviewed journals and offering authors specific feedback. We hope to engage established and up-and-coming researchers in ongoing research forums on family engagement. We plan to publish our own review in multiple parts, including research methods for family-engagement context, family engagement as rights-focused practice, evidence-informed family engagement practice and a literature review of emerging themes.

Burford, G., Morris, K., & Nixon P. (2007). Family decision making: International survey. Unpublished manuscript.

Nixon, P., Burford, G., & Quinn, A. (with Edelbaum, J.). (2005, May). A survey of international practices, policy & research on family group conferencing and related practices. Englewood, CO: American Humane Assocation.

Whittaker, J. (2000). Foreword. In G. Burford & J. Hudson (Eds.), Family group conferencing: New directions in community-centered child and family practice (pp. xi-xii). Piscataway, NJ: AldineTransaction.

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