Family Group Conferencing

FGC was introduced in Nebraska in 1999 as a method of involving extended families in the care and protection of abused and neglected children. The Nebraska Court Improvement Project piloted FGC in three rural county courts. After these two year pilot projects were complete, Nebraska Health and Human Services began a statewide implementation of the project. The Court Improvement Project continues its involvement in FGC programs by providing technical assistance to the providers and by conducting a process and outcome evaluation of the project.

The FGC model was developed in New Zealand about a decade ago and has been practiced in child welfare cases in many states in the U.S. and other nations. It is based on the basic principle that in order to ensure child safety and well-being, families must be regularly involved in making decisions about protecting and ensuring safety for their children. FGC is a non-adversarial process that provides families with the opportunity to make these important decisions.

The model involves the gathering of the extended family of the child(ren) in need of protection. Families are provided with financial assistance for travel, if necessary, or may participate via teleconference. After the family has been informed of the child welfare agency's concerns and information regarding maltreatment of the child and safety concerns, the family has private time to deliberate and develop a safety plan for the child. Plans typically include monitoring of the home situation if the child remains with his/her parent, placement with a relative if the child needs to be removed for safety reasons, and state supported services to the family with relatives assisting with the logistics. The child protection worker must approve the plan and the plan is then be presented in court and, if approved, is incorporated into the court order. Families typically develop plans that are more intrusive than the state agency could, so plans are generally approved. A Family Group Conference pamphlet can be seen here.

FGC services are provided through the statewide mediation centers coordinated by the Nebraska Office of Dispute Resolution. Experienced family mediators receive three days of specific FGC facilitation training.

The Center on Children, Families, and the Law (with funding from the State Court Improvement Project) is evaluating this promising project. The evaluation is composed of two major components. First, the process of the conference itself is being evaluated. We are looking at what actually goes on in the preparation activities, the actual conference, and any court/legal outcomes. We are finding out who attends conferences, how long different conference parts last, whether case plans are written, whether these case plans are adopted by the Court, and how conference participants judge the fairness and effectiveness of the FGC.

We are about to begin collecting information about the outcome of FGC. We are specifically looking at the outcome of child well being. The outcome evaluation will involve comparing 50 children who had a FGC conducted on their behalf with 50 children who are also in the state system but who did not have an FGC (perhaps, because it was not readily available in the area yet). This evaluation will focus on information about permanency, contact with family, and re-abuse rates. It will also include information about the children's school adjustment, home adjustment, potential depression, and their perspective on how things are going for them. We will see if there is a difference between children who had an FGC and children who did not. This project will probably take about two years to complete and we are just getting started.

Project Team

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