FAMILY GROUP DECISION MAKING:
AFTER THE CONFERENCE

PROGRESS IN RESOLVING VIOLENCE
AND PROMOTING WELL-BEING

En français


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:

Tel: (709) 737-8165
FAX: (709) 737-2408
E-Mail: gburford@uvm.edu
jpennell@ncsu.edu

1997


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. 

INTRODUCTION RESEARCH DESIGN
In situations of family violence, Family Group Decision Making is about building partnerships among family, community, and government:
  • to keep children and adults safe, &
  • to promote their well-being.

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."
Grandmother

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."
Child Protection Worker

"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.
Police Officer

"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."
Women centre worker

Implementation Study

This study evaluated the outcomes from the implementation study in which:

  • 32 families sampled to yield difficult abuse/neglect situations,
  • 472 people took part in 37 conferences, and
  • 3 diverse sites ­ Inuit, rural, and urban ­ hosted the project in Newfoundland & Labrador.

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.

Outcome Study

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:

  • development of 154 children and young people (Looking After Children Assessment Records),
  • social support for 150 adults and adolescents (Social Network Map),
  • comparing pre- and post-results for smaller project and comparison samples.

In addition, community consultations were held with 31 individuals.

MAJOR FINDINGS POLICY/PROGRAM IMPLICATIONS
Families Progressed

The majority of interviewees reported that the families were "better off" because it:

  • enhanced family unity,
  • improved care for children,
  • reduced drinking problems, and/or
  • decreased family violence.

"I get treated better and I feel more content.
Young person, 1 year after the conference

Dissatisfaction was voiced when:

  • key items in plans were not carried out by family or agencies, or
  • in a few cases, children were removed from parents.

Nevertheless, progress was reported:

  • across the three diverse sites, and
  • even though the majority of plans were only partially carried out.

Abuse/Neglect Reduced

Overall, family group families showed:

  • decreases in substantiated child abuse/neglect, emergency responses to crises, and indicators of woman/wife abuse, and
  • increases in indicators that family members were safe at home.

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:

  • the abuse of mothers by an adolescent child, and
  • abuse/neglect in the most chaotic families.

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. 

Well-Being Fostered

Children's Development

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."
Mother, 1 ½ years after the conference

Ways to enhance outcomes are to:
  • Ensure that participants have written copies of the plan,
  • Specify clear mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating plans,
  • Put in place systems for monitoring the monitors,
  • Orient new workers to the model and the family plan,
  • Hold reconvened conferences or review meetings as needed, and
  • Make sure that families have the necessary resources and supports for carrying out the plans.

"The funding for visits with the kids is great. I can take them out now and have some fun with them."
Mother with Children in Foster Care

Family group decision making facilitates
cooperative work among programs so that they can work together to address the maltreatment of both children and adults in families.

"My husband's after smartening up. He wants to go back to school. His temper is a lot better. He's calmer.
- Abused wife, 1 1/3 years after the conference

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." 
Police Officer, 1 year after the first conference

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." 
-New Children's Protection Worker

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.
-Child Protection Worker, 1 ½ years after project

CONCLUSIONS

RECOMMENDATIONS

The model is:
  1. Adaptable across cultures,
  2. Stops child & adult maltreatment, and
  3. Advances child and adult well-being.
  • Maintain community ownership.
  • Address all family abuse/neglect.
  • Use integrative service approach.