Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Olmsted County Child and Family Services in collaboration with Family Service Rochester, a local community non-profit organization serving southeastern Minnesota

Program Name

Family Involvement in Child Welfare Practice

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) was initiated in Olmsted County in 1996 in response to the child welfare agency’s commitment to more meaningfully involve families and extended kin in child placement prevention and reunification planning. The state of Minnesota additionally recognizes that children of color are being placed outside the care of their parents at a disproportionate rate and that special care and attention is required to guard against such inequities. FGDM and other family centered practices have been developed and implemented as a means of addressing the needs of children and families of color where community and cultural information is additionally taken into consideration. With FGDM, the strengths and resources within the extended family system are utilized in building safety and stability of care around child protection concerns.

Program Description

The FGDM team was developed as a resource within a wider child welfare system where the practice has been transformed to behaviorally reflect the value and necessity of family involvement in matters of child safety, well-being and stability of care. There is an array of processes and models available ranging from those that are professionally led with families participating to those that are family led with service provider information/participation available. 

  • Family Group Conferences in the New Zealand model (both child welfare matters and youth justice accountability)
  • Wraparound specifically utilized in children’s mental health interventions 
  • Family Case Planning Conferences (routine meetings as well as a specified format in a court process) 
  • Circles 
  • Mediation

A practice that clearly values the relevance of family, extended kin, and communities in both the assessment of risk to children and ongoing provision of social work services is particularly responsive to the needs of refugee and immigrant families. Key practice elements include: 

  • Honoring family knowledge, wisdom and customs
  • Ethnic food preferences at meetings 
  • Family traditions of openings and closings of meetings 
  • Location of meetings determined by preference of family 
  • Involvement of Elders, family, and community in decision-making 
  • Allocating resources to assist in extensive reach out to relatives/kin for inclusion in family meetings 
  • Use of interpreters as co-facilitators at meetings to make space for more than one language spoken 
  • Respecting the presence of Community Elders and cultural decision making processes 
  • Use of cultural guides to inform coordinators/facilitators regarding special considerations

Resource Materials Used in Program

Written Resources:

  • American Humane Association’s National Center on FGDM resources and materials
  • Library of books and videos on FGDM

Collaborative Agencies:

  • Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association (for interpretation and translation)
  • Garden and Associates, Inc. (for interpretation and translation) For more information on the resources used by this program, please contact program staff (see Program Contacts).

Groups Served by Program

Olmsted County has a population of approximately 138,000 people and is located about an hour and a half south of Minneapolis/St. Paul. There are sizeable numbers of immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. There is a growing population of families whose first language is Spanish.

The referrals come primarily from Olmsted County Child & Family Services (including child welfare, child protection, children’s mental health and adolescent behavioral health), Olmsted County Community Corrections (youth probation), juvenile court, and community agencies.

Program Funding

Family Group Decision Making is partially funded by a federal grant managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Funding is also provided by the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners through Olmsted County Child and Family Services.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The Family Group Decision Making team is currently staffed with six full-time coordinators/facilitators that are cross trained in the conduct of a number of different processes and models of meetings involving families. The team has developed and expanded its role under the guidance of Sue Lohrbach who is a manager with Olmsted County Child and Family Services. Two supervisors, one from Family Service Rochester and one from Olmsted County Community Services, oversee the practice. The staff performs a variety of tasks which include coordination, facilitation, training, consultation, and tracking outcomes.

Staff Training: The FGDM team training is provided in a number of different ways. American Humane Association’s National Center on FGDM has provided basic training, advanced training in special topic areas, technical assistance and many resource documents and films. Olmsted County provides regular training opportunities on research based practice in child welfare, working with differences and diversity, specific focus on the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual abuse, solution focused skills, stages of change, safety organized practice, and others. The Minnesota Department of Human Services offers core training available to staff on cultural competency and other relevant topics. Regular, ongoing support, consultation, and supervision is provided in primarily group forums and the use of specific cultural guides help the team understand the values and norms of traditional practices are utilized.

Program Evaluation

  • Process Evaluation: FGDM utilizes a questionnaire to gather family views regarding their experiences in the meetings. The questionnaire is handed out at the end of each process to all present. A questionnaire designed specifically for youth input is additionally utilized.
  • Outcome Evaluation: An annual report is prepared that includes demographics, numbers and types of meetings (specifics including preparation time, etc.), and is inclusive of outcome information specifying child safety and child placement data. The report is available on the Olmsted County Community Services website.

Program Outcomes

  • Process Data: Information for Olmsted County extrapolated from the Minnesota Family Involvement Strategies database shows that 84% of participants surveyed in 979 conferences/meetings from 2004-2006 were satisfied with the plan developed at the conference/meeting.
  • Outcome Data: An annual Olmsted County Child and Family Services report (FIS Report) was compiled in August 2006. It shows that since year 2000, the use of Family Involvement Strategies has increased significantly in an effort to support partnership with families and increase collaboration with professionals. The Child and Family Services Review includes twenty three indicators and at least seven are influenced by case planning involving families. The indicators are as follows:
    • Children are safely maintained in their own homes when possible
    • Permanency within timelines 
    • Maintaining connections for children while in foster care 
    • Kinship care placement and reunification with family 
    • Stable placements 
    • Visits by social worker with parents and children

Olmsted County has achieved or exceeded Minnesota state guidelines in six out of seven of these indicators and exceeded federal benchmarks in seven out of seven. (This information is derived from an agency quality assurance process that reviewed over 130 family cases). NOTE: There were 69 family involved forums in 2000 and in 2006 there were 585.

Additional Outcomes: 

  • Conference Presentations: The FGDM team has presented at multiple state and national conferences on a variety of topics related to the work of coordination/facilitation of family meetings.
  • Training: Members of the FGDM team have co-trained on the work of FGDM along with American Humane Association National Center on FGDM staff. 
  • Committees: FGDM team members serve on a number of state level committees that support the development and implementation of family involvement in child welfare and youth justice. 
  • Publication: FGDM team members have authored and co-authored journal articles on the topics of family involvement.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Olmsted County Child and Family Services

Family Service Rochester

Program Dates

FGDM and the accompanying shift in child welfare practice to be inclusive of family views and presence began in 1996 and is still in effect as of August 2007.