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