A Family Group Conference (FGC) or Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) conference is a restorative practice…
FGC/FGDM conferences involve children, family members, extended family and family friends in making a plan for someone in their family. Professionals empower and collaborate with families, rather than impose solutions, to assist families in helping themselves. The basic premise of Family Power is that “Families are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in positions of authority do things WITH them, rather than TO them or FOR them.”
Beginning in New Zealand in 1989 in the youth justice and child welfare systems, Family Group Decision Making (FGDM – sometimes referred to internationally as Family Group Conferencing or FGC) operates according to the premise that the direct involvement of a family group works better to solve a family’s issues than the efforts of professionals alone to solve those issues for people. A key ingredient of an FGDM meeting is “Family Alone Time,” when the family group is left alone, without professionals in the room, to devise plans to solve their own issues. These plans are then evaluated by professionals for legal and safety concerns.
A conference coordinator, usually independent of the referring social work or other agency, may work with a family through three stages:
- Referral and preparation, in which the coordinator meets with the referral source, immediate family, extended family, professionals who can provide information, guidance and resources and other involved community to plan the conference.
- The conference itself, which may take several hours to conduct, in which the family produces a plan for how to solve a problem, care for a child, or support a family member in need.
- Monitoring and followup, during which the family takes responsibility to carry out its plan and may reconvene to evaluate and update the plan over time.
The FGDM conference meeting also has three major components:
- Information sharing, during which the professionals help frame the legal and professional concerns, offer resources that might be available to help the family, and provide information that may be of use to the family to arrive at a successful plan.
- Family alone time or private time, during which all the professionals actually leave the room, and the family meets to develop its own plan to address the issues of concern. This is the most time-consuming portion of the FGDM.
- Presentation of the plan, during which the professionals return and the family outlines the plan they have developed. Professionals may request clarification, but if the plan meets all the legal and safety concerns, it will be approved and become the service plan for that family.
Barbara lived across the street from a church with which she was very involved. Church staff and members were like family. They already took a great interest in helping her and her children. Throughout the preparation phase it became clear to the conference coordinator that associates of the church would actually make up the bulk of the “family group.”
The people invited to attend the conference included the mother and two of her children; six people affiliated with the church, including two Sunday school teachers, the choir teacher, the pastor and the congregation’s health ministry leader. Three family friends attended including an honorary “uncle” and one of the boy’s godfather’s. The children and youth coordinator and a caseworker also attended, along with a community worker who worked with the 12-year-old son who was under juvenile probation supervision.
While many professionals left the room after information sharing as is normal, some members of the church attended as part of the extended family group. This was all worked out during the preparation period as to who would stay and who would leave during alone time.
A big part of the plan the group came up with naturally revolved around issues of child care. The mother would stay home while the children attended various educational and other activities in the church, which would give her much needed breaks. The children also planned to register for YMCA afternoon programs. Some of them would work with an organization called Bikeworks to learn how to fix bikes. Having bicycles would also help them take more responsibility for their own transportation needs. Community service projects were arranged for the child who needed to fulfill service hours as a condition of his probation. A friend of the mother’s volunteered to take the children to school in the mornings.
Additionally, plans were made to locate more appropriate housing for the entire family. The mother agreed to take a series of parenting classes and to attend family therapy to help her be a more successful mother to her children and a more responsible adult. The conference was also instrumental in helping the mother find a job, as someone in the group helped connect her with work at a local hotel.
In children and youth
- protect children from abuse or neglect while maintaining strong family ties
- determine the best place for a child to live when home is not an option
- help a youth who is aging out of the child welfare system plan for the future
- help deal with problems in the home
- prevent foster care placement
In youth justice
- explore living options
- help youth transition out of placement
- prevent correctional residential placement
In adult corrections
- explore living options
- help adults transition out of prison
- garner family support for parolees and probationers
In school settings
- support school attendance
- address behavior problems
- address academic performance
Become an FGDM Conference Coordinator
Learn how to coordinate family group decision making conferences, from preparing for the conference to conducting the conference to monitoring and followup. In addition, you will get ideas about how family engagement and empowerment can be applied more informally on a daily basis whenever working with families. Every trainee receives a 153-page book, Family Power, related to this training. Learn more>>
Professional development opportunities provided by the IIRP Graduate School.
Family Power (Book)
Waves of change have weakened the influence of family in modern societies, yet family remains the most critical element in our social fabric. A new approach for working with families seeks to strengthen this fabric by enlisting the collective power of families and their communities of care to address their own issues and solve their own problems. more » $12
Family Voices (DVD)
Family Voices is an 18-minute documentary about family group decision making (FGDM), a restorative approach to problem solving used worldwide that enables families to make decisions for themselves, in child welfare, youth justice and other situations. In the empowering spirit of FGDM, Family Voices lets families do the talking. more » $38
Featured Speakers: Paul Nixon & Joan Pennell (DVD)
Two experts and innovators in the field of family group decision making/family group conferencing, speak about practice and implementation of FGC/FGDM. more » $38
Visit the IIRP Bookstore for more books, DVDs and educational resources.