By Katharine Cahn, Karin Gunderson, Nancy Shore, Judith Wirth, Briana Yancey



This article presents the findings of a retrospective study of 70 family group conferences (FGC) conducted in Washington State. These 70 FGCs addressed the well-being of 138 children. The families within the evaluation were primarily referred by foster care units rather than investigative units and involved cases that had been in the child welfare system for over 90 days. Families were invited to participate in the decision-making process, engaging both the maternal and paternal sides of the family with greater success than standard case planning approaches. Children who had a conference experienced high rates of reunification or kinship placement, and low rates of re-referral to CPS. These findings generally remained stable as long as two years post-conference. This study, the largest long-term follow-up study of FGC published to date, suggests that FGCs can be an effective planning approach for families involved with the public child welfare agency, resulting in safe, permanent plans for children at risk.



Child welfare policy and practice in the United States have been described in terms of a pendulum, swinging between child safety and family preservation. The landmark Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) represented a swing towards family preservation where policies promoted efforts to keep families intact and prevent the placement of children into foster care (Cole, 1995). As the country struggled with rising foster care placements and a number of high profile child deaths in the eighties and nineties, public opinion began to blame this focus on family preservation, and called for renewed attention to child safety.