New Research Proves Families Make the Difference in Protecting Children

American Humane Association
Monday, 2 June 2003

Comprehensive research released today by American Humane points to increased family involvement in the child welfare system as a viable solution for protecting children from abuse and neglect.

The research examines a process called Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) in which family members, community members, and others collaborate with child welfare workers to create a plan for the child or youth. Anyone who has a relationship with the child -- parents, kin, tribal elders, neighbors, clergy -- may all be included. The group works with child welfare administrators to make decisions for the child's safety and well-being based upon its collective experiences, strengths, and resources.

In the United States, FGDM is currently practiced in over 150 communities in 34 states. However, very little research has been published on the effectiveness of the process.

In response to the need for proven results, American Humane, which operates the National Center on Family Group Decision Making™, led an effort to compile the most extensive research to date.
The results are promising. The research indicates that when compared to traditional child welfare practices, child safety plans developed collaboratively by families, their support networks, and child welfare systems are more likely to keep children safe, result in more permanent placements, decrease the need for foster care, maintain family bonds, and increase family well-being.

  • FGDM keeps children safe.
    The research shows that children involved in FGDM are less likely to suffer abuse or neglect in the future. On average, only 5% of FGDM plans are not accepted by authorities for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.
  • FGDM placements are more permanent.
    The studies indicate that living arrangements established for children during the FGDM process are more stable over time. Children spend less time in foster care and experience fewer transitions and moves.
  • FGDM decreases the need for foster care.
    FGDM reduces the amount of time children spend in foster care. However, the studies show that families come up with what they think is best for children, even if that means recommending temporary or permanent non-family placement.
  • FGDM maintains family bonds.
    Children in the FGDM process are more likely to be reunited with their parents or placed with kin compared to children who do not participate in FGDM.
  • FGDM increases family well-being.
    FGDM increases family support and helps families heal. Families that participate in FGDM report an increase in family connection, communication, unity, and problem-solving abilities.

The research also shows that FGDM can be used to create effective solutions for even the most challenging child welfare situations. FGDM works in situations of neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, and sexual and physical abuse regardless of factors such as age, race, ethnicity, and level of involvement in the child welfare system.

"American Humane has long advocated FGDM as a way to achieve a more family- and community-oriented child welfare system. We hope this research will provide child welfare system administrators, policymakers, and social workers with leverage and ideas to implement a practice that is making a positive difference," says Lisa Merkel-Holguin, MSW, co-director of American Humane's National Center on Family Group Decision Making™.

For more information, or to contact American Humane Association, see their website at:

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