• July/August 2005
  • Vol. 6, No. 6

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Family Group Conferences for Youth in Group Care

Family group conferencing (FGC) has shown positive results for engaging families and enhancing permanency for children in out-of-home care. A recent study in Washington State explored the effectiveness of FGC as a strategy for improving placement and relationship outcomes for some of the most troubled children in the child welfare system—those in group care.

Connected and Cared For was a 3-year project of the Northwest Institute for Children and Families and the Washington State Children's Administration, Region 3, with funding from the Stuart Foundation. During the project, 81 family group conferences were conducted for 96 children between 11 and 18 years of age who were in group care at the time of the conference. A total of 57 youth were ultimately included in the study sample. Of these youth, more than half had experienced more than six placements, and 19 percent had experienced more than 10 placements.

Postconference interviews indicate that the conferences were largely successful in engaging families in planning for the youth and increasing communication among families, social workers, and service planners. Findings include:

  • Family participation. An average of 7.8 family members or fictive kin attended each conference on behalf of the youth. Just over half of the conferences (53 percent) included at least one member from the paternal side. Fathers themselves were present at 34 percent of the conferences.
  • Improved relationships. Nearly all (97 percent) of the family plans included visitation with the child. Sixty-five percent of the youth reported that the amount that they talked to or saw family members increased after the conference.
  • Enhanced placement outcomes. At 6 months postconference, 59 percent of the youth had exited group care: 20 percent had returned home; 16 percent were placed with relatives; and 23 percent were placed in regular foster care. At 12 months postconference, 67 percent of the youth had exited group care to less restrictive placements.

A final report on the evaluations was completed in January 2005. The report and an executive summary may be obtained by contacting Karin Gunderson of the institute at kgund@u.washington.edu.

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