Academic journal article Child Welfare

Family Group Decision Making and Disproportionality in Foster Care: A Case Study

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Family Group Decision Making and Disproportionality in Foster Care: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Research on the disproportionate number of children of color in the child welfare system suggests that we should focus on key decision points such as investigations, substantiations, and placements to understand how experiences of children vary by race and ethnicity. This article describes one community's efforts to use Family Group Decision Making in placement decisions to reduce disproportionality in foster care by diverting children from regular foster care services and keeping them within their extended families.

Several recent gatherings of child welfare researchers have drawn attention to what we know and do not know about children of color in the child welfare system and suggested that key decision points - such as reports, investigations and removals - need to be examined in order to understand why numbers of children from some racial and ethnic groups involved in this system are disproportionate (Derezotes, Testa, & Poertner, 2004; Courtney & Skyles, 2003). This research shows, for example, that African American children are more likely to be placed in foster care compared with white and Hispanic children (Needell, Brookhart, & Lee, 2003). In order to address differential treatment in these decisions, it may be necessary to develop alternative child welfare decisonmaking practices. One model that may be useful for addressing disproportionality is Family Group Decision Making (FGDM). The focus of FGDM is a plan for protecting and caring for a child developed through a meeting of the child's extended family in cases of child abuse and neglect. FGDM is a rapidly growing practice around the world. For example, the number of communities in the United States trying FGDM grew from five in 1995 to more than one hundred by 2000; similarly, in England and Wales four pilot programs began in 1994, and now fifty-five local authorities or nongovernmental groups have FGDM programs in those countries (Nixon, Merkel-Holguin, Sivak, & Gunderson, 2001). The FGDM research literature is fairly consistent in describing how FGDM works and what the participants think makes it work well (Burford & Hudson, 2000; Pennell & Burford, 2000; Sieppert, Hudson, & Unrau, 2000). Burford (2001) summarizes this research as demonstrating that family members do come to meetings when they are given an opportunity; they participate appropriately and develop plans child-centered; both family members and child welfare professional believe meetings improve child protection work; and children placed through meetings are more likely to remain with their extended families. Since FGDM can facilitate kinship care, it may be a useful tool for finding alternatives to formal foster care for children of color.

This article describes one community's effort to use Family Group Decision Making to address disproportionality in foster care. We begin with why the project started, how the FGDM program worked, and conclude by discussing the outcomes of the referrals made to the program. In brief, the results suggest that FGDM can be effective in engaging extended family members in providing safe and stable long-term care. Flowever, the limited financial support available to relative guardianship caregivers needs improving.

The Community Wants a New Approach

In 1994, with the assistance of a planning grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's Families for Kids Initiative, concerned community members in Kent County, Michigan, came together to discuss how foster care placement decisions were made in their community. More than four hundred citizens representing eighteen stakeholder groups, from youth in foster care to corporate leaders, participated in dialogue sessions in churches and local restaurants. They had good reason to think dialogue session participants would have been very satisfied with their foster care system. The American Bar Association and other national organizations described their community as a model child welfare system (Hardin, Rubin, & Ratterman Baker, 1995). …

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