Toronto Family Group Conferencing

Helping families involved with child welfare plan for the safety and wellbeing of their children. 

What is Family Group Conferencing?

Family Group Conferencing (FGC) is an alternative approach to working with and engaging families in the child protection context. 

The main objective of FGC is to give the extended family group (i.e., nuclear family, extended family, and friends) a voice in the decision-making process to ensure the safety and well-being of children at-risk or in need of protection. FGC is a culturally-sensitive, alternative approach to child protection that empowers marginalized families; bringing together family group members to craft a plan of care for their children that addresses concerns identified by child welfare/children’s mental health professionals. 

A main benefit of the FGC process is that plans are developed for the vast majority of these children to return to or remain within their extended family systems.

What is Involved in a Conference?

FGC is a process whereby family group members (i.e., nuclear family, extended family, and friends) participate in the decision-making process to plan for a child(ren) that is at risk or in need of protection.  There are two distinct phases to the FGC process:

The Preparation Phase: This phase involves the coordinator meeting with all family group members and service providers invited to a conference. The goal is to prepare prospective participants by providing them with information about the conferencing process as well as the strengths and concerns identified by the professionals involved with the family. This phase takes approximately 5 to 8 weeks.

The Conference Phase: Conferences usually are held on evenings or weekends and last approximately 5.5 hours. Additional conferences can be requested if the family wishes to review/revise a plan.

3 Segments

Opening and Information Sharing is the beginning of the conference and is marked in a ritual manner chosen by the family (e.g., prayer). Both family members and professionals attend this segment. The coordinator outlines the purpose of the conference and each person is introduced. Participants establish guidelines for a respectful process. Service providers present their reports and are available to answer questions. A speaker, at the request of the family, may address a topic relevant to the family (e.g., addictions, depression, death).

Family Private Time is the second stage.  Family group members meet alone, without involvement of professionals or the coordinator, to craft a plan that addresses the child welfare concerns and ensures the future safety and well-being of the child. This time allows the family to share a meal and to discuss and share any intimate or confidential matters.

Review of the Plan is the final stage, when the family group presents their recommendation for a plan to the child welfare team.  The plan is accepted if the child protection staff is assured that the child's wellbeing and safety needs have been addressed. 

Outcomes 

An extensive research study of the Toronto FGC Project, conducted in 2004-2005, illustrated many positive outcomes of the FGC program, including:

  • Significant reductions in involvement with child welfare;

  • Significant reductions in the number of child welfare investigations; and

  • High percentages (89% ) of children remaining within and returning to families both immediately and in the long-term, on average 3 years.

Ongoing program evaluation shows a high degree (over 80%) of agreement from both family members and professionals on the following statements:

  • Family members felt safe and were free to disagree and voice their opinions.

  • The conference process respected the family’s cultural values.

  • The conference process helped the family group members and the professionals get along.

  • The family group made decisions that were respected by the professionals.

  • A clear plan for the children was developed that would protect their safety and wellbeing.

For further information, please contact Inshirah Hassabu at 416-622-8833 extension 255 or ihassabu@georgehull.on.ca.

“Emma’s Story”

Emma was a 17-month-old baby who had been in foster care since she was a newborn. Both her parents loved her very much but lacked the resources and support to care for her.  

The Children’s Aid Society recognized that with the right supports, the best place for her would be with one of her parents.

A Family Group Conference was held which included family members and close friends of the parents.   

Each participant offered tangible support in order to ensure Emma’s safety and wellbeing.  The Children’s Aid Society accepted the plan to return Emma to Dad’s care with a pledge of on-going support by friends and other family members and Emma went home with Dad as soon as the conference was over.  

Family Group Conferencing brings to life the adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

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