Family Group Decision Making Plays a Vital Role
Family Group Decision Making is a process where family members can help make decisions about the best way to support their family and take care of their child.
FGDM recognizes the importance of involving family groups in decision making about children who need protection or care. It can be initiated by child welfare agencies whenever a critical decision about a child is required.
In FGDM processes, a trained coordinator who is independent of the case brings together the family group and other supportive professionals.
The FGDM process positions the family group to lead decision making, while the professionals agree to support plans that adequately address concerns related to child safety. FGDM processes actively seek the collaboration and leadership of family groups in crafting and implementing plans that support the safety, permanency and well-being of children.
The process has three main stages, which includes information sharing where professionals and family members share both the strengths and concerns they have witnessed, followed by private family time, where the family alone develops a plan that addresses the concerns that have been raised.
Finally, the plan is presented to the professionals who should support it if the concerns have been addressed and it does not put the child at risk.
Family Group Decision Making is rooted in the belief that families have a shared history, wisdom, untapped resources, and an unrivaled commitment to their children.
By empowering families and their friends to think and plan creatively for their children, families create community partnerships, and utilize family strengths to resolve child welfare concerns. It is also an invitation to families to be responsible for the outcomes of a plan of their own creation.
FGDM processes are not conflict-resolution approaches, therapeutic interventions or forums for ratifying professionally crafted decisions. Rather, FGDM processes actively seek the collaboration and leadership of family groups in crafting and implementing plans that best fit the family’s culture and situation.
One example of how FGDM works is the story of Baby Missy. Baby Missy was born addicted to narcotics. Concerns for Missy’s health required her to remain in the Hershey Medical Center for a month after her birth. Baby Missy’s mother, Christine, struggles with addiction to pain medication/narcotics and her father, Brian, was recently incarcerated for a parole violation.
Due to the safety concerns surrounding baby Missy, her parents are prohibited from any unsupervised contact with her. Although there are extenuating circumstances with this family, there is a ray of hope that was quickly recognized by the family’s Children and Youth Services Caseworker.
Very quickly Christine and Brian’s families assembled and took action to make sure baby Missy is safe and can bond with her mother. The family started by requiring that Christine move in with her mother in order to make sure everyone is safe.
Recognizing the family’s commitment to keeping Missy safe, the Children and Youth Services Caseworker referred the family to the Family Group Decision Making Program. That very same day the FGDM Conference Planner met with Christine and was greeted by a living room full of concerned family/extended family members.
Without hesitation, the family snapped into action.Within two days the family participated in a Family Group Conference that included 13 participants ranging from the maternal and paternal family members, the church pastor and close family friends. The family plan led to mom going to rehab and the family made sure baby Missy was able to visit regularly.
After mom’s 30-day stay at rehab, the caseworker was so impressed by the family’s commitment to the plan that she suggested that the family have a second family conference to move forward with further planning, which included a plan for phasing out agency protective services.
The family was able to come up with and carry out a plan which kept Missy safe and out of foster care.
Dave Vactor is a program coordinator for the Centre County Youth Service Bureau.