Underpinning social work practice with rigorous evaluation: lessons from a systematic review of Family Group Decision Making for the Campbell Collaboration

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The need to work collaboratively with families in the provision of child protection services is an established premise of social work. Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) models typically involve one or more meetings between the extended family and other professionals, during which time a plan is developed for the care and safety of children. This approach is seen as an alternative to models which rely too heavily on practitioners’ ability to make the best decisions for families, with children at risk. The underlying assumption of FGDM models aligns with social work values: solutions found within the family are likely to be more accepted and effective than those imposed by professionals. FGDM models are now used in New Zealand, the U.K., Canada, the United States, Australia, France, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Israel and the Netherlands. But there have been mixed messages from attempts to evaluate FGDM effectiveness.
This review was completed according to the review protocol previously published with the Campbell Collaboration. Sixteen databases were searched and 1272 manuscripts were screened for study reports of RCTs and parallel cohort designs which evaluated FGDM. We screened for studies which reported outcomes relating to child maltreatment, family permanence, placement stability, child well-being, and client satisfaction with the FGDM process and plan.
We found nine studies which satisfied our selection criteria. Risk of bias analysis suggested low study quality in the evidence available on FGDM effectiveness, to date. Two meta-analyses were possible across small sub-groupings within the studies. We found that there is insufficient evidence to support or discount the efficacy of FGDM.
By drawing on community and family resources, and helping families to help themselves in less intrusive ways, FGDM is arguably a flagship intervention for the profession of social work. However, the current state of research evidence underpinning FGDM must be considered. This presentation will outline the difficulties encountered by primary study authors in their attempt to evaluate FGDM. The presentation will conclude by considering these research efforts in light of recent templates for the design and evaluation of complex interventions, and, in addition, the direction provided by the Cochrane and Campbell collaborations on rigorous evaluation. This presentation aligns explicitly with the conference theme: methodologies for a changing world. Faced with an information explosion via online facilities, and the distractions therein for practitioners, policy makers and the public, it is crucial that the social work profession aligns itself with rigorous research evaluations, and a solid evidence base.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 May 2018
EventEuropean Conference for Social Work Research - Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Apr 201820 Apr 2018


ConferenceEuropean Conference for Social Work Research
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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