What is Family Group Decision Making?
Family Group Decision Making (FGDM), also known as Family Group Conferencing, is a way to work with and engage families who are involved with child protection services offered by the Brant CAS. The main goal of FGDM in Brant County is to give the extended family group (i.e., nuclear family, extended family and friends) a leadership role, in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society of Brant, in the decision making process to ensure the safety and well being of children who are at significant risk of or in need of protection from abuse and neglect.
FGDM is based on the premise that families want to plan for their children and want to ensure that the children’s needs are met. FGDM also believes that every family has abilities and strengths and it is these positives that families can build on when planning for their children’s
FGDM allows the family group a voice in making decisions for their children that is greater than in the traditional child welfare process. It is through this inclusive process that families and professionals alike find creative and meaningful solutions to addressing the child’s needs.
This program began in New Zealand because the Maori people wanted more involvement in decisions that affected their children. It has now spread to over 20 countries in the world.
The Children’s Aid Society of Brant initiated the Brant Family Group Conference project in 2002. The name was changed to Family Group Decision Making in July of 2005.
“What I found most helpful about Family Group Decision Making
was that the CAS saw that there is a family and they get to figure
out what to do to solve the problems themselves”.
Families want to be and can be in charge of their lives, they recognize and accept the risks to their children, and they will make good decisions and arrangements for the protection, care and supervision of their children.
“I think it woke me up in time to realize just how much the kids’
mother and I have hurt them.” (Adult participant)
By the end of Brant’s seventh year in 2009, 108 children whose families planned for them through FGDM remained in the care of their parents or returned to the care of their families. This represents 84% of the children planned for through FGDM.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
In Brant County, the CAS social worker makes a referral to the FGDM Coordinator. The FGDM coordinator is neutral and works “offsite”. The FGDM coordinator’s job is to support both the family and the service providers to voice their perspectives in a respectful, clear manner.
During a referral meeting with the CAS social worker and manager, the coordinator gathers information and the “bottom lines” are developed to ensure that any plan created ensures the safety and well being of the children.
The coordinator contacts service providers, with the permission of the family, to request a written report and attendance at the meeting itself. The reports are short, written in accessible language, and copies are provided to the family at the meeting.
“Everyone knew from meeting with the coordinator exactly what
the issues were and why it was important for the children to have
a permanent home. Everyone was given advanced warning for
planning”. (Family Participants)
The meeting itself is usually about 5-7 hours long. Since this meeting is a family gathering, the children in the family are in attendance. Childcare, snacks, coffee & juice, and a meal are provided as part of the gathering. The meeting is made up of three stages.
- Information giving: The CAS social worker provides a report about the family’s involvement with CAS; the risks that exist for the child; and the concerns and strengths observed in the family.
Other service provider reports are read and provided to the family. The child’s statement is read to the group. A speaker may also give a short presentation about a particular topic. Questions raised by the family are answered and concerns regarding the risk are discussed, until the family is clear about the risks to the child.
- Family private time: Family group meets privately (all service providers and coordinator leave the room) where they develop their solution to address the safety and well being concerns for their children, guided by the concerns requiring solutions that are set by CAS.
- Negotiation of the plan and evaluation: Service providers are invited back and the family group presents their solution to the child welfare workers and the plan for the child is negotiated and agreed upon. The plan must meet the needs of the child and ensure the safety and well being of the child.
Given that the plan presented by the family does not compromise the child’s safety and physical and emotional well being, it is accepted by the CAS.
“Clearing the air between both families (maternal and paternal)
helped resolve some things and end hearsay! We got answers
that were clear and truthful and not based on hearsay”.
“The availability of CAS staff to provide information and answer
relevant questions was really helpful.” (Family participant)
“We accomplished in one day here what couldn’t be accomplished
by a bunch of adults over the past four years!” (Child participant)
FGDM has many positive results:
- FGDM has resulted in fewer children placed in care.
- It reduces neglect and abuse of children.
- Families have a better understanding of the child welfare concerns.
- It increases communication between all the family members and the children’s aid society.
- Families feel more connected with each other.
- It increases safety for children!
“We got to sit and discuss the situation with our family ourselves”
“Everyone had a voice and an opinion” (Family Participant)
“I am impressed with the progress CAS has made in dedication
of their workers helping families help themselves”.
For further information, please contact:
Family Group Decision Making Coordinator
70 Chatham Street
Brantford, ON N3T 5R7