CCN

Family Group Decision Making

FAMILY GROUP DECISION MAKING (FGDM)

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) is one of the prescribed methods for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) contemplated in the Child & Family Services Act of Ontario. FGDM is a process used for many purposes. FGDM is a decision-making process for resolving disputes between a Children's Aid Society (CAS) and the family of children who are (or may be) in need of protection. Funding from the Ministry of Children & Youth Services supports CAS' use of ADR if a court intervention is being considered, is pending, or is in process.


WHAT IS FAMILY GROUP DECISION MAKING?

Family Group Decision Making (FGDM), is a way to work with and engage families who are involved with child protection services offered by the Sudbury and Manitoulin District CAS. The main goal of FGDM is to give the extended family group (i.e., nuclear family, extended family and friends) a leadership role, in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society, in the decision making process to ensure the safety and well being of children who are at significant risk of, or are in need of protection from, abuse and neglect.

FGDM is based on the premise that families want to plan for their children and want to ensure that the children’s needs are met. FGDM also believes that every family has abilities and strengths and it is these positive attributes that families can build upon when planning for their children’s well being.

FGDM allows the family group a voice in making decisions for their children that is greater than in the traditional child welfare process. It is through this inclusive process that families and professionals alike find creative and meaningful solutions to addressing the child’s needs.

Families want to be and can be in charge of their lives, they recognize and accept the risks to their children, and they will make good decisions and arrangements for the protection, care and supervision of their children.

FGDM involves a meeting of a child's entire family, family friends, and other supporters, which is organized by an FGDM Coordinator. All participants freely consent to attend the meeting, knowing that they can change their minds and leave at any time. The hope is that by having this discussion, the family and support network can develop a plan that is acceptable to both the CAS and to the family.

There are three parts to the FGDM meeting:

  1. Information Sharing

    The FGDM Coordinator arranges a meeting so that the family can hear the CAS' concerns for the children's safety. Other professionals and service providers may also be present to give information and share how they are willing to help. Family members are encouraged to ask questions about what they have heard.

  2. Family Time

    In this phase, all of the service providers leave the room. Family members and their support network meet alone to discuss what they have heard and to develop their own plan to keep the children safe. The family time can include having a meal together and engaging in other rituals important to the family. The length of family time varies according to the family's preference.

  3. Review Plan

    Lastly, the FGDM coordinator, the CAS worker(s) and other professionals return to hear and discuss the plan developed by the family. All parties must agree that the plan will keep the children safe.


WHAT DOES A FGDM COORDINATOR DO?

First, let's be clear about what the FGDM Coordinator does not do. The FGDM Coordinator does not decide what happens. The Coordinator is an impartial person with no decision-making authority. He or she helps the family hear the CAS' concerns and opinions about how to keep the children safe. The Coordinator also helps the family decide who attends the meeting and prepares everyone on what to expect.


DO THE CHILDREN ATTEND?

In most cases, yes. The FGDM Coordinator helps you decide who will attend.


IS THERE A COST FOR THE FAMILY?

No. Costs associated with the mediation process are covered by the Ministry of Children & Youth Services.


WHAT ISSUES CAN BE ADDRESSED THROUGH FGDM?

Many things including conditions of a supervision order, length of a court order, specifics of the service plan to be addressed, the child's placement and/or living arrangements, custody or access, and features of an adoption can be developed through the FGDM Coordination process.


WHAT ISSUES CANNOT BE ADDRESSED THROUGH FGDM?

You cannot use FGDM if one or more key family member does not agree to FGDM or feels forced into it, if one or more key parties would not feel safe in a family meeting and no protections could be put into place, or if there are no supports or extended family to assist in developing a plan. In addition, FGDM cannot be used to determine if a child is "in need of protection."


WHY USE FAMILY GROUP DECISION MAKING?

When contested cases go to court, they take a long time to finish and can cost a great deal of money, time, and emotional pain. Children may be left in limbo, not knowing what the future holds for them. Also, the process becomes a competition where only one side can "win." When a judge decides the outcome after a trial, someone always walks away unhappy with the outcome. Family Group Decision Making helps the parties "have their say" and may result in a family-designed, workable plan for the children.


IS THE PROCESS FAIR TO FAMILIES?

To ensure fairness, these are important points:

  • the FGDM Coordinator is an independent professional who does not work for the CAS;
  • the FGDM Coordinator has no power to make decisions about the case;
  • the FGDM Coordinator is not paid by the CAS and the Coordinator assigned to the case is not selected by the CAS;
  • all FGDM Coordinators are trained and mentored in FGDM coordination through the George Hull Centre and carry liability insurance; and
  • any party can stop the FGDM process at any time (or withdraw his or her participation).


HOW LONG IS THE PROCESS?

The FGDM Coordinator needs time to consult with all of the participants and must arrange a time for everyone to meet. Once all participants are assembled together for the meeting, the FGDM meeting could take only a few hours or last an entire day.


HOW DO I REFER?

Anyone can suggest a case for FGDM, including lawyers and family members. However, the referral to CCN ADR comes from the CAS.


WHAT ARE THE STEPS IN THE FGDM PROCESS?

  1. Determining if the case qualifies for FGDM. (CAS does this)
  2. Securing consent of all key parties for the referral to FGDM. (CAS does this)
  3. Consulting the Band if the case involves a First Nations family. (CAS does this)
  4. Notifying the Office of the Children's Lawyer. (CAS does this)
  5. Making a referral to FGDM. (CAS does this)
  6. Matching a FGDM Coordinator from the roster. (CCN ADR Program Coordinator does this)
  7. Setting up and conducting the FGDM conference. (FGDM Coordinator does this)
  8. Gathering feedback about the process. (FGDM Coordinator does this)


WHAT IF I HAVE A COMPLAINT ABOUT THE PROCESS?

The CCN ADR Coordinator asks for your opinions and feedback when the process ends. Having your feedback helps us to continually improve the process for users of the service.


HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT FGDM?

The George Hull Centre has additional information on its web site. You can also view this interactive flash video from the Family Group Conferencing Forum of Northern Ireland, a helpful tool for children and adults alike.