Shalem is offering a new service to our clients: Family Group Decision Making (FGDM), as part of its new “Restorative Families” program. FGDM is an alternative dispute resolution process that is offered to families who are involved with Child Welfare. Through the FGDM process, families are given the opportunity to address the concerns regarding the safety and wellbeing of the child(ren) and make plans for their care. Let me share an example:
A mother (Sue) and father (Steve) have a new baby (Sophie). Steve is in a new relationship and is not very involved in Sophie’s life. Sue is feeling blue and overwhelmed and her doctor believes that she is suffering from Post Partum Depression. After talking with Sue, the doctor is worried that Sophie may not get the care she needs and a call is made to Child Welfare. The child welfare worker meets with Sue and recognizes that Sue could use some support.
With Sue and Steve’s permission, a call is made to an FGDM coordinator. As the coordinator, I meet with the child welfare workers assigned to the family to make sure I can clearly explain the concerns they have. I then meet with Sue and with Steve and share with them the information that Child Welfare has shared with me. We set a date and time for a family meeting. Each parent shares with me who is in their circle of support (family and friends) and these people are invited to attend the meeting for Sophie.
As most people in Sue’s family do not understand about post partum depression (PPD), a guest speaker who can inform the family about PPD is invited to come to the meeting. Sue has started working with a mental health practitioner and she is invited to attend the meeting as well.
I then meet with everyone who is going to attend the meeting to help them understand why we are meeting and why we would like them to attend. As Sue and Steve’s new partner (Sally) are not getting along, we go over some safety plans to help both people feel that they can attend safely and be included in the decision-making for Sophie.
On the day of the meeting, there are 24 people who have come to help make decisions for Sophie – Sue’s family, Steve’s family, their pastor, friends and supports, the team from Child Welfare and the community supports.
At the start of the meeting, at the parent’s request, the pastor opens the meeting with prayer. The family members and community supports are introduced to each other. The guest speaker shares a brief overview of what it means for Sue to parent while coping with PDD. She offers helpful suggestions for ways that family and community can support Sue and Steve as parents. The child welfare worker shares with the family again what the concerns are, and asks the family to work together to address these concerns.
The family works together to come up with a family plan, outlining how they will assist Sue and Steve in providing the best care possible for Sophie and how they will address the worries that the child welfare worker had shared. This plan is shared with the child welfare team and because it addresses all the worries, the team is happy to accept this plan and work with the family to implement it.
By using this service, families like Sophie’s are invited to make decisions about how they will address the care needs of their children. Sue and Steve are given the opportunity to open up to their families about what has happened and families are given the opportunity to really be there and help.
We have often heard it said that to raise a child “it takes a village.” Through FGDM, the village is invited to be a part of the decision-making process and care for the children in their family, in their community.
FGDM is not limited to work within Child Welfare. Whenever there is a decision to be made, this is a process that can be a helpful tool for families. FGDM has been used successfully when families are coping with mental health or addiction concerns, when families need to make decisions around the care needs of aging parents or family members with developmental disabilities or serious health issues. Working with families in this way continues to be a privilege and an honour for me.