Family group decision-making for children at risk of abuse or neglect: A systematic review

Tony McGinn, Paul Best, Jason Wilson, Admire Chereni

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The mistreatment of children, by those who should care for them, is a worldwide problem. The majority of governments across the globe accept a level of responsibility for investigating and intervening in cases of child abuse and neglect. These interventions have the potential to protect children, and contibute to their well-being across the life-cycle. Much has been written, and much discussion as taken place, about the best way of making these interventions. Most authorities who have this responsibilty, to respond to child protection concerns, have a written guide for their practice. To a greater of lesser degree, this guide will outline how carers and families should be involved in the decision-making process about how a child should be protected, cared for, and nurtured so that may achieve their full potential. Family group decision making is a particular form of child protection decision making, which puts the child's family at the centre of the decision-making process.

Family group decision making meetings can adhere to a number of different rules, and follow a number of different formats, described as: family group conferencing, family team meetings, Ohana group conferencing, or a range of other terms. They all have a few principles in common. When a child protection agency adopts a version of family group decision-making they make a clear effort to bring family, extended family, friends and community members together to discuss what can be done. They also bring any professionals such as teachers, medical staff or youth workers to this meeting. These meetings are designed to develop a plan for the safety, permanence and well-being of the child or children involved; with a focus on family-centred decision-making. This approach differs considerably from more typical child protection decision-making. Traditional child protection decision making usually incorporates the views of children's parents or carers; but places responsibility, for decisions about how children should be protected, squarely on the shoulders of child protection workers.

This review brought together studies which investigate whether or not family group decision making works better, for the children concerned, than traditional child protection decision-making. We found 15 studies which have investigated this question using comparisons between children who received FGDM, and those who did not. We have assessed the quality of these studies and summarised the findings from these studies. We have concluded that further studies, and better quality studies designed to avoid the potential biases of previous studies, are needed. Findings from the studies summarised here do not suggest that FGDM is better or worse, for children, than more traditional practitioner-led decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages64
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number3
Early online date12 Jul 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jul 2020


  • child abuse
  • family and community support models
  • neglect
  • social work

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