Family Group Decision Making (FGDM)

3  — Promising Research Evidence
3  — Promising Research Evidence

About This Program

Target Population: Children who are abused/neglected and their family groups

For children/adolescents ages: 0 – 17

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 17

Program Overview

FDGM is an innovative approach that positions the “family group” as leaders in decision making about their children’s safety, permanency, and well-being. Children and their parents are nested in a broader family group: those people to whom they are connected through kinship and other relationships. Agency decision-making practices that are planned and dominated by professionals and focused narrowly on children and parents can deprive those children and parents of the support and assistance of their family group — and can deprive agencies of key partners in the child welfare process. FGDM recognizes the importance of involving family groups in decision making about children who need protection or care, and 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 the agency personnel to create and carry out a plan to safeguard children and other family members. FGDM processes position the family group to lead decision making, and the statutory authorities agree to support family group plans that adequately address agency concerns. The statutory authorities also organize service providers from governmental and non-governmental agencies to access resources for implementing the plans. 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 support the safety, permanency and well-being of their children.

Program Goals

The goal of Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) is:

  • Position family groups to lead decision-making processes with the support and resources of public agencies

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for Family Group Decision Making (FGDM).

Essential Components

The essential components of Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) include:

  • Processes that are designed to be carefully managed and crafted to ensure fidelity to the FGDM values and to ensure that those values drive practice such as the following six critical criteria:
    • An independent (i.e., non-case carrying) coordinator who is responsible for convening the family group meeting with agency personnel: When a critical decision about a child is required, dialogue occurs between the family group and the responsible child protection agency personnel. Providing an independent coordinator who is charged with creating an environment in which transparent, honest and respectful dialogue occurs between agency personnel and family groups signifies an agency’s commitment to empowering and non-oppressive practice.
    • Child protection agency personnel that recognize the family group as their key decision-making partner, and make time and resources available to convene this group: Providing the time and resources to seek out family group members and prepare them for their role in the decision-making process signifies an agency’s acceptance of the importance of family groups in formulating safety and care plans.
    • Family groups that have the opportunity to meet on their own, without the statutory authorities and other non-family members present, to work through the information they have been given and to formulate their responses and plans: Providing family groups with time to meet on their own enables them to apply their knowledge and expertise in a familiar setting and to do so in ways that are consistent with their ethnic and cultural decision-making practices. Acknowledging the importance of this time and taking active steps to encourage family groups to plan in this way signifies an agency’s acceptance of its own limitations, as well as its commitment to ensuring that the best possible decisions and plans are made.
    • Preference given to a family group’s plan over any other possible plan as long as agency concerns are adequately addressed: In accepting the family group’s lead, an agency signifies its confidence in, and its commitment to, partnering and supporting family groups in caring for and protecting their children, and to building the family groups’ capacity to do so.
    • Referring agencies that support family groups by providing the services and resources necessary to implement the agreed-upon plans: In assisting family groups in implementing their plans, agencies uphold the family groups’ responsibility for the care and protection of their children, and contribute by aligning the agency and community resources to support the family groups’ efforts.
    • Follow-up processes after the FGDM meeting: These processes occur until the intended outcomes are achieved, to ensure that the plan continues to be relevant, current and achievable, because FGDM is not a one-time event but an ongoing, active process. Follow-up efforts include but are not limited to:
      • Ongoing family group-driven follow-up FGDM meetings that are scheduled to accommodate the family group’s needs and availability, focused on progress, achievements, unresolved issues/concerns, new information, and additional resources, which will result in the plan being updated and revised as needed. Frequent proactive communication between system and family group representatives to support the successful implementation of the plan.
    • The Family Group Conference, one model that meets all of the core elements of FGDM, was first legislated in New Zealand through the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act of 1989 in recognition that the existing child welfare system was affected by institutional racism and paternalistic organizational and professional practices. In other countries implementing FGDM, implementers and/or policies may encourage that FGDM be offered to families disproportionately represented in the child welfare system to hopefully impact the disparate outcomes of families of color. FGDM is described as a process that is highly attendant to the family group’s culture as the coordinator is supposed to:
      • Recognize that each family group is unique
      • Use respectful language, both verbally and nonverbally
      • Pretend not to understand the family group’s culture when he or she does not asking questions to develop an understanding of the family group’s culture
      • Work with cultural leaders in a community (e.g., Tribal and First Nations leaders)
      • Develop an understanding of the family group’s world view, cultural assumptions and values
      • Develop an understanding of and a respect for the family’s decision making model
      • Explore these issues with family group members and others during the preparation process

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • Have parents who are in danger of losing custody of them

Parent/Caregiver Services

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Child endangerment present in the family

Recommended Intensity:

Typically the initial "family group" meeting averages 3.5 hours. A coordinator typically spends many hours, before the initial family group meeting, preparing all of the family and service provider participants to attend.

Recommended Duration:

The duration of the program is based on the needs of the family. Often times, follow-up meetings are scheduled to ensure adherence to the plan or to reconvene the family group to revise the plan. The family group should meet as often as necessary to ensure the plan is achieving the purpose of the initial meeting.

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Birth Family Home
  • Community Daily Living Setting
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • School Setting (Including: Day Care, Day Treatment Programs, etc.)


This program does not include a homework component.


Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) has materials available in languages other than English:

French, Inukitut, Spanish

For information on which materials are available in these languages, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

  • Personnel
  • Meeting space (but this is usually donated)
  • Funds to support family attendance
  • Hosting/food for meetings
  • Resources, including flexible funds, and services to support the plans generated at family meetings

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

This has not been established and there are differing schools of thought worldwide on the qualifications for the Coordinators. For example, some US communities suggest that an MSW should fulfill the role of the Coordinator while, some US communities and countries outside of the US, may use volunteers or individuals with no, lesser, or different educational degrees. There is agreement that the Coordinators require sufficient training, supervision, coaching, and mentoring, and that this training should address core skill development. In addition, training on domestic violence and the program is increasingly being suggested as a necessary component for Coordinators. Please see for more information.

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contact:
  • Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect
Training Type/Location:

On-site and some regionally based

Number of days/hours:


Implementation Information

Pre-Implementation Materials

There are no pre-implementation materials to measure organizational or provider readiness for Family Group Decision Making (FGDM).

Formal Support for Implementation

There is formal support available for implementation of Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) as listed below:

Training, implementation technical assistance, general consultation, and practice coaching to support implementation are provided at local, regional, and state levels. Please see for more information.

Fidelity Measures

There are fidelity measures for Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) as listed below:

The Family Group Decision Making Fidelity Tools (FGDM-FT) Participant and Coordinator Versions and the Achievement of Family Group Conferencing Objectives Scale are available.

To use these tools, please contact Lisa Merkel-Holguin at

Implementation Guides or Manuals

There are implementation guides or manuals for Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) as listed below:

The FGDM Best Practice Guidelines are a good starting point for communities interested in implementing FGDM. It is located at

Research on How to Implement the Program

Research has not been conducted on how to implement Family Group Decision Making (FGDM).

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Child Welfare Outcomes: Safety, Permanency and Child/Family Well-Being

When more than 10 research articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals, the CEBC reviews all of the articles as part of the rating process and identifies the 10 most relevant articles, with a focus on randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled studies that have an impact on the rating. The 10 articles chosen for Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) are summarized below:

Pennell, J., & Burford, G. (2000). Family Group Decision Making: Protecting children and women. Child Welfare, 79(2), 131-158.

Type of Study: Pretest-posttest with nonequivalent comparison group
Number of Participants: 91 children and their families


  • Age — 0-17 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Inuit and European descent (percentages not specified)
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were children in the foster care system who had been subjects of abuse or neglect.

Location/Institution: Eastern Canada

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study compared families in a Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) program with other families from child protective services (CPS). Measures included a checklist with 31 indicators of child abuse and neglect and adult abuse, which was used to assess children’s case files and follow-up interviews with family group members on family developments. Comparisons were made on whether indicators were present at the year prior to the conference and 1 year after the conference for both FGDM families and comparison families during the same time period. Authors note that the FGDM families had higher numbers of problems in pretest period, but were similar in other respects. Results showed that FGDM families had half the number of maltreatment events in the posttest relative to the pretest period, while comparison group events increased. The number of reports to and actions taken by CPS also fell for the FGDM group. Cases of mother/wife abuse also declined in FGDM group families and rose somewhat in the comparison group. Limitations of this study include lack of random assignment to conditions and lack of statistical analysis to verify the significance of observed group differences

Length of postintervention follow-up: 1 year.

Gunderson, K., Cahn, K., & Wirth, J. (2003). The Washington State long-term outcome study. Protecting Children, 18(1/2), 42-47.

Type of Study: One group pretest-posttest study
Number of Participants: 138 children


  • Age — Not specified
  • Race/Ethnicity — 59% Caucasian, 23% Native American, 11% African American, 4% Hispanic, and 3% Asian
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were referred by child welfare services, child protective services, or tribal welfare workers.

Location/Institution: Washington State

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study examined outcomes for families receiving Family Group Conferences (FGC) [also called Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM)]. Results after approximately six months showed that fewer children were living with non-relatives after the FGC and more children were living with their parents. Examination of the state database showed that 6.8% of the children were re-referred for alleged abuse and neglect in comparison with a statewide average of 8.1%. Placements also appeared to be stable with only 10.1% of children being placed in out-of-home care. Limitations include the lack of a control group.

Length of postintervention follow-up: 6 months.

Sundell, K., & Vinnerljung, B. (2004). Outcomes family group conferencing in Sweden: A 3 year follow-up. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28, 267-287.

Type of Study: Pretest-posttest with nonequivalent comparison group
Number of Participants: 248


  • Age — 0-17 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Not specified
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were families referred to Family Group Conferencing by child welfare services.

Location/Institution: Sweden

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
Families referred for Family Group Conferencing (FGC) [also called Family Group Decision Making (FGDM)] were compared to families receiving standard child protective services (CPS) procedures. At baseline, groups were comparable on most demographics, but the FGC group was more likely to have had prior investigation by CPS and caseworkers rated FGC group children as having more severe problems. Data on services received was collected from case files and caseworkers also rated the severity of children’s problems at baseline and at case closure. As measured at closure, FGC group children received more services and were more likely to be living with extended family. At long-term follow-up, there were significantly more overall substantiated maltreatment reports for the comparison group and more reports of physical and sexual abuse. However, the FGC group was more likely to have had a substantiated report of neglect. Groups did not differ with regard to referrals for children’s antisocial behavior problems. FGC group families received services for a longer period. FGC group children were more likely to be in out-of-home care at follow-up, but were also more likely to have been placed with extended family. Notable limitations of the study include some attrition and lack of random assignment to groups

Length of postintervention follow-up: 3 years.

Walker, L. (2005). A cohort study of ‘Ohana conferencing in child abuse and neglect cases. Protecting Children, 19(4), 36-46.

Type of Study: Nonmatched comparison group
Number of Participants: 60 families


  • Age — FGDM: Mean=8.6 years, Comparison group: Mean=8.3 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 86.8% African American, 10.4% White, and 2.7% mixed, Hispanic, and other
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were children in the child welfare system who had been involved in Family Group Conferences.

Location/Institution: Four different areas of O’ahu, Hawaii

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
Families were examined who either received ‘Ohana conferencing [also called Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM)] or services as usual. Outcomes assessed included time that the case was open, court appearances, number of prior reports, and temporary and permanent placements. The ‘Ohana conferencing group had shorter case times and few court hearings. Children in the ‘Ohana conferencing had few foster placements, emergency shelter placements, and fewer court-ordered permanent custody placements. Groups did not differ on placement with relatives. Limitations include lack of randomization to conditions or matched comparison group and selection bias. The authors note that while child protective services cases overall were randomly selected for consideration, the ‘Ohana conferencing group came disproportionately from one location and cases referred for conferencing tended to have fewer prior abuse and neglect reports.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Crampton, D., & Jackson, W. L. (2006). Family Group Decision Making and disproportionality in foster care: A case study. Child Welfare, 86(3), 51-69.

Type of Study: Nonequivalent control group design
Number of Participants: 257


  • Age — Not specified
  • Race/Ethnicity — 73 % African American
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were children in the child welfare system who agreed to participate in the Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) process.

Location/Institution: Kent County, Michigan

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This research describes one community's efforts to use Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) in placement decisions to reduce disproportionality in foster care by diverting children from regular foster care services and keeping them within their extended families. Family Court administrative data were used to examine the long-term outcomes of the 257 cases referred to the FGDM program from 1996-1998. Youth receiving FGDM were compared to those who did not receive FGDM. Results indicated that most of the children placed through FGDM remained outside the child welfare system; however, more than two-thirds of the cases closed with children remaining with legal guardians receiving significantly less financial assistance than caregivers licensed for foster care or are receiving an adoption subsidy. It was also shown that children placed through regular foster care services were more likely to be adopted. Limitations include the lack on randomization, missing data, validity, and reliability of outcome measures.

Length of postintervention follow-up: Not specified.

Berzin, S. C., Cohen, E., Thomas, K., & Dawson, W. C. (2008). Does Family Group Decision Making affect child welfare outcomes? Findings from a randomized control study. Child Welfare, 87(4), 35-54.

Type of Study: Randomized controlled trial
Number of Participants: Fresno: 60, Riverside: 50


  • Age — Fresno: Birth-18 years, Riverside: 2-12 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Fresno: 56.7% Hispanic, 23.3% Caucasian, 13.3% African American, and 6.7% Other; Riverside: 46% Caucasian; 36% Hispanic, and 18% African American
  • Gender — 54.7% Male and 45.3% Female
  • Status — Participants were children and adolescents birth-18 years old who have been the subject of a child maltreatment investigation.

Location/Institution: Fresno and Riverside Counties, CA

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This article described the evaluation of two Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) programs. Measures that determined child safety as indicated by reports of child abuse and neglect, and removal from the home; permanency outcomes including time to permanency and exit outcomes; and placement stability including number of placements and type of placement moves were determined based upon information from the California Child Services Archives. Results did not indicate more positive outcomes for children receiving the intervention, but did indicate that children were not worse than those receiving traditional services; outcomes examined were related to child safety, placement stability, and permanence. Limitations include small sample size, lack of follow-up, and contamination may have occurred in this study, impacting the ability to detect differences between the treatment and comparison groups.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Sheets, J., Wittenstrom, K., Fong, R., James, J., Tecci, M., Baumann, D., J., & Rodriguez, C. (2009). Evidence-based practice in Family Group Decision-Making for Anglo, African American and Hispanic families. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 1187-1191.

Type of Study: Nonequivalent control group design for placement outcomes portion of study
Number of Participants: 4,066


  • Age — Median=8 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — Not specified
  • Gender — Not specified
  • Status — Participants were families whose child had been removed by child welfare authorities due to abuse or neglect between December 2003 and July 2005.

Location/Institution: Texas

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study addresses the impact of Family Group Decision Making (FGDM). Measures utilized include survey data from parents, relatives, and children's caregivers as well as administrative case demographic and outcome data. Families receiving FGDM services were compared to families that did not receive FGDM services by assessing satisfaction, child well-being and exits from care. Results indicate exits from care are faster if families participate in FGDM, and exits to reunification are increased; this may be especially true of African American and Hispanic children. For example, 32% of African-American children whose families attended an FGDM conference had returned home, relative to 11% whose families attended a Permanency Planning Team meeting. Forty percent of Hispanic children from families participating in FGDM had returned home compared to 13% participating in traditional services. Also, both parents and relatives are more satisfied with FGDM than standard practice on a number of dimensions, with relatives reporting feeling more empowered than parents. Children are reported to be less anxious if their families participate in FGDM. Limitations included non-randomization of participants and limited follow-up length for child welfare exits.

Length of postintervention follow-up: Varies.

Godinet, M. T., Arnsberger, P., Li, F., & Kreif, T. (2010). Disproportionality, Ohana Conferencing, and the Hawai'i Child Welfare System. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 4(4), 387-405.

Type of Study: Nonequivalent control group design
Number of Participants: 370


  • Age — Approximately 8 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 32.1% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 67.9% Other races
  • Gender — 52.5% Female and 47.5% Male
  • Status — Participants were children involved with child welfare system in Hawaii in 2004-2005.

Location/Institution: Hawaii

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study examined the role of ‘Ohana Conferencing [also called Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM)] in mitigating negative outcomes once a child is in the system. A subset of the files from the Hawaiian Department of Health and Human Services was viewed to determine the role of ‘Ohana Conferencing in mitigating negative outcomes in the child welfare system, such as re-entry and multiple placements. Results showed that Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children are not overrepresented in the Hawaiian child welfare system. Results also indicate that ‘Ohana Conferencing has potential as an intervention. Limitations include small sample size (only 44 cases had received ‘Ohana Conferencing), missing data, and generalizability to other ethnic populations.

Length of postintervention follow-up: Not specified.

Rauktis, M. E., Huefner, J., & Cahalane, H. (2011). Perceptions of fidelity to Family Group Decision-Making principles: Examining the impact of race, gender, and relationship. Child Welfare, 90(4), 41–59.

Type of Study: Cross-sectional study
Number of Participants: 2,820


  • Age — Birth-15 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 1,894 White, 567 African American, and 359 Other
  • Gender — 1,488 Male and 1,332 Female
  • Status — Participants were children referred due to child maltreatment who were residing at home and experienced Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) meetings.

Location/Institution: Pennsylvania

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This study explored the perceptions of fidelity to family group principles using comparative information from participants of the Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) meetings. The measure utilized to examine fidelity was the Achievement of FGC Objectives questionnaire. Results indicate that white respondents felt there was a greater degree of fidelity than did the African American respondents, with other race respondents sometimes rating similarly to both white and African American respondents. Professionals generally perceived a greater level of fidelity and there were significant race by respondent interactions. Limitations include concerns regarding generalizability due to self-selection, lack of information on the response rate, and lack of information on outcomes.

Length of postintervention follow-up: None.

Wang, W. E., Lambert, M. C., Johnson, L. E., Boudreau, B., Breidenbach, R., & Baumann D. (2012). Expediting permanent placement from foster care systems: The role of Family Group Decision-Making. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 845-850.

Type of Study: Nonequivalent control group design
Number of Participants: 80,690


  • Age — Mean=5.3 years
  • Race/Ethnicity — 38.1% Hispanic, 32.8% Anglo, 26.4% African American, 0.3% Asian, 0.3% Native American, and 2.0% Other/Unknown
  • Gender — 50.2% Male and 49.8% Female
  • Status — Participants were in the child welfare system and had been removed from their home and placed in care for longer than 3 days.

Location/Institution: Texas

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
This research focused on the impact of Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM) on expediting youths' exits from the foster care system through family reunification, permanent placement with relatives, or adoption using a sample of youths in foster care. Youth receiving FGDMwere compared to those who did not receive FGDM. Measures utilized include the Texas Concept-Guided Risk and Safety Assessment. Results indicated that FGDM after removal increased the odds of achieving the desired outcome of placement with family (reunification with family or placement with relatives) compared to adoption. Results also indicated that, although FGDM after removal did not decrease time to permanency, neither did they significantly increase time to permanency. Limitations include the lack on randomization, concerns regarding generalizability, and the large number of children who did not exit care during the study.

Length of postintervention follow-up: Varied by individual.

Additional References

Burford, G. & J. Hudson. (2000). Family Group Conferencing: New directions in community-centered child & family practice. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Burford, G., Pennell, J., & MacLeod, S. (1995, August). Manual for coordinators and communities: The organization and practice of Family Group Decision Making (revised). St. John's, NF: Memorial University of Newfoundland, School of Social Work.

Merkel-Holguin, L. (Ed.) (2003). Promising results, potential new directions: International FGDM research and evaluation in child welfare, special issue of Protecting Children, 18(1-2).

Contact Information

Lisa Merkel-Holguin
Agency/Affiliation: Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect
Phone: (303) 864-5211
Fax: (303) 864-5367

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: February 2021

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: August 2017

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: May 2009