This critical analysis looks at the innovative practice of Family Group Conferencing (FGC) in the social work practice area of child protection. FGC refers to family-led decision-making processes seeking to achieve better outcomes for children and young people in contact with child protection officials (Harris 2007). It is a strength-base model originating from New Zealand that has spread into the child protection arena across various Western countries including Australia (McArthur & Winkworth 2006). In FGC, the decision-making process provides the child or young person, their immediate and extended family members, their child protection officials as well as other members of their community concerned about the family with the opportunity to convene, deliberate, and develop strategies to address the care and protection needs of the child or young person in question (Boxall, Morgan & Terrer 2012). Social work setting
In looking at child abuse statistics around the time of FGC’s introduction to Australia, there had been a considerable rise in number of notifications of child abuse and neglect on a national level from 73,000 (1992-1993) to 92,000 (1995-1996) (AIHW 1997). Of the notifications from 1995 to 1996, 11.6 out of 1000 had been subjected to finalized investigations and 5.8 out of 1000 (33%) were substantiated notifications (AIHW 1997). Of substantiated notifications, 31% were substantiated as emotional abuse, 28% as physical abuse, 25% as neglect and 10% as sexual abuse (AIHW 1997). In the child protection arena, issues regarding the needs of care and protection of children “at risk” have long been recognized as complex and requiring collaborative relationships between authorities and families in order to achieve more positive outcomes for the children and their families (AIHW 1997). Therefore, the protection of the child may require the involvement of various services with the child as well as the family (AIHW 1997).
In examining the practice of FGC, Harris (2008) observed that Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia had made specific provisions for the utilization of FGC through the introduction of supporting legislation. This requires that there be an attempt made for a conference to be held in some circumstances like prior to seeking a protection order (Horsfall et al 2010). This means that legislation permits a FGC to be utilized to engage families before court orders are sought allowing the decision-making process to take place in a less adversarial way by returning the responsibility of care and protection to the family and their community supports (Horsfall et al 2010).There are some minor differences in the Australian Capital Territories whereby legislation supports the convention of a FGC in some circumstances but does not require for it to be convened (Harris 2008).
The FGC therefore is a partnership, a collaborative relationship between the child or young person, their immediate and extended families, members of their community (like support workers etc) and child protection officials (who represent the government) (Adams & Chandler 2004). This would mean that the social context in which the practice is carried out is maybe expansive depending on the needs of the child or young person and their family; it may also include other support workers to support the agreements reached in the FGC (Adams & Chandler 2004). FGC can be convened in order for cases to sit outside the court system in some Australian states and territories, however in conferences may also occur in place of or in conjunction with court orders (Harris 2008). While the main idea is to return the care and protection responsibility to the child or young person’s family and community, in some instances FGC occurs as a direct order from the court (Harris 2008). To describe where FGC sits in an organizational context depends on the legislation that is supporting its practice which differs throughout the country (Harris...
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