Objective: Develop a plan to protect children who are referred to the child welfare system by strengthening their families.
In a Nutshell: Youth are referred to the program from Children’s Protective Services (CPS), a division of the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS). The Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM) coordinator works with the family to identify those in its support system and plan a conference to bring them all together. There the coordinator, the family, members of the support system and other involved professionals discuss the family’s strengths and risk factors. The family develops a plan to address the risks and maintain child safety. A family advocate then works with the family for up to one year.
When and Where it Happens: The program serves residents of Ingham, Clinton and Gratiot counties, all located in mid-Michigan. Meetings generally take place in the family’s home or somewhere else in the family’s community, and can take place on weekdays, weeknights or weekends.
Who Started It and Who Runs It: DHS made funding available for FGDM in 1998, and Highfields won the contract to operate the program in the three counties in 2006. Patricia Gundrum serves as Highfields’ program supervisor, and is assisted by a coordinator and two family advocates.
Overcoming Obstacles: One of the initial problems was getting referrals from CPS workers, who were unfamiliar with the FGDM program and unsure of how it would help families. As program staffers established regular contact with CPS supervisors and attended staff meetings in each DHS county office to present the program, the number of referrals began to climb.
Cost: Highfields operates the program with an annual DHS contract of $250,000. Some of that goes for administration and salaries, but much of it is flexible funding that can be used to buy essential items that the family needs (such as food) and to cover travel, lodging and child care expenses for family members who come to conferences from out of town. This is the first year of a three-year contract.
Who Pays: The program is funded entirely through the DHS contract.
Youths Served: The program can serve up to 36 families per year; there is no set number of families that must be seen annually. The youths are involved in abuse or neglect cases, are transitioning out of foster care and into independent living, or have been adopted but are having difficulties with their new families. In the 2005-06 fiscal year, 195 families around the state participated in various FGDM programs.
Youth Turn-on: In FGDM conferences, youth are given a direct voice in what they want – unlike in court proceedings, which rely largely on adult participants.
Youth Turn-off: Some youths are uncomfortable with the openness of the program. During the family conference, participants discuss what the family or youth needs and how the larger group can support them. Some youths find this process difficult and have a hard time voicing their thoughts and concerns during the larger group discussions.
Research Shows: Of the 195 Michigan families who participated in the 2005-06 fiscal year, 181 were deemed a “success” one year later. That means the child was able to stay with the parents or a relative.