FAMILY GROUP DECISION MAKING:
AFTER THE CONFERENCE
PROGRESS IN RESOLVING VIOLENCE
AND PROMOTING WELL-BEING
Joan Pennell & Gale Burford
School of Social Work
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John's, Newfoundland
Canada A1C 5S7
For Further Information Please Contact
the Investigators at:
THE EMPLOYABILITY AND SOCIAL PARTNERSHIPS DIVISION
OF HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT CANADA
IS PLEASED TO HAVE PROVIDED FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND CONSULTATION TO THIS PROJECT.
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS PUBLICATION DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THOSE OF
HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT CANADA.
In situations of family violence, Family Group Decision Making is about building partnerships among family, community, and government:
At a family group conference, the family in which the abuse or neglect was taking place came together with their relatives, friends, and other close supports to make a plan for resolving these concerns.
"The family are all much closer now. [My daughter] knows that everyone is here for support in any way she needs. She is also very open now and talks about everything no more secrets."
Before the plan went into effect, it had to be approved by the referring authority such as child welfare or parole.
"It fits well with protection work. It gives the family more ownership. . . . For [the worker], it is the same level of work but without the family's commitment to the plan . . . it wouldn't work to have the child at home."
"The project is aimed toward the philosophy of the community taking responsibility for itself. . . . I would recommend this model in any small community who distrust outside agencies.
"We need to link child welfare and youth justice with the abuse of others in the family. . . Family group conferencing can serve the whole family."
This study evaluated the outcomes from the implementation study in which:
The implementation study was funded through Family Violence Initiatives (Health, Justice, and Solicitor General of Canada) and co-sponsored in Nain by the Labrador Inuit Health Commission.
In the one-to-two-year period after conferencing ceased, this outcome study evaluated:
Progress through interviews with one-quarter (115) of the conference participants;
Abuse/neglect through child protection and police file reviews of all 32 families, comparison with files of 31 other child protection families, and interviews with representatives from half (16) of the families; and
Well-being through measuring for project, community, and child protection groups:
In addition, community consultations were held with 31 individuals.
|MAJOR FINDINGS||POLICY/PROGRAM IMPLICATIONS|
The majority of interviewees reported that the families were "better off" because it:
"I get treated better and I feel more content.
Dissatisfaction was voiced when:
Nevertheless, progress was reported:
Overall, family group families showed:
In contrast, child welfare families who did not have a family group conference, changed overall in a negative direction on these same indicators.
The project was least successful in stopping:
Nevertheless, in the majority of families, events indicating child abuse/neglect and adult abuse (e.g., family member having to leave home) declined.
Family groups tend to generate plans that preserve or reunify family. These plans for the most part appear to safeguard children.
Before and after the conference, the project children lagged behind other children in their community.
Nevertheless, most project children with pre- and post-assessments made positive gains in their development.
Social Supports Extended
After the conference, project adults and young people disconnected from some non-supportive relatives and firmed up supportive connections with other family and professionals.
"I am much closer to my mother now, and she helps me out a lot. . . . She babysits regularly and helps me clean up. . . . When we first had the family group conference, Mom and I weren't even talking."
Ways to enhance outcomes are to:
"The funding for visits with the kids is great. I can take them out now and have some fun with them."
Family group decision making facilitates
"My husband's after smartening up. He wants to go back to school. His temper is a lot better. He's calmer.
To address children's and young people's abuse against their mothers, however, requires even greater levels of cooperation than is usually found among youth corrections, child protection, police, judges, and family.
Family group decision making helps families and communities take responsibility for finding culturally relevant and sustainable solutions for family violence and child neglect.
Conferencing increases protective services' knowledge of families, helps them work better with family and extended family, and reduces the need for emergency visits and apprehensions.
"[The mother] still drinks but her family is more involved, and they report more to child welfare." Child Protection Worker, 1 ½ years after the conference
"The mother brought forward a charge [to the police] against the sexual offender of her child. In the past she would not have . . . reported abuse against her child."
Once the abuse and/or neglect are removed, children's protection tends to remove their services. To foster full development, agency services or community supports need to remain in place.
"I closed the case. . . . The family wasn't posing any concerns for child welfare. The only thing unmet in the plan was the tutoring for the youngest son."
Child protection workers no longer need to see themselves as bearing sole responsibility and can instead work in partnership.
Government wanted me to monitor [individuals], while with family group decision making I [had] a different role from monitoring individuals to monitoring how family worked together.
The model is: