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February 2009Vol. 10, No. 1Family Group Conferencing With Immigrant Families

Family Group Conferencing (FGC) can be an important tool for engaging the extended family members of an immigrant child involved with the child welfare system. In FGC, the caseworker brings together a broad group of family members to create a plan for the child's safety, permanency, and well-being. FGC is based on the principle that a child's extended family and community offer significant resources for the child, and their collaboration with the agency may result in the best outcome for the child. A recent issue brief from the American Humane Association outlines the benefits of FGC in cases in which families straddle international borders.

In this issue brief, authors Michelle Howard and Lara Bruce note that FGC can be effective in engaging far-flung family members and encouraging permanent connections when certain key components are in place:

  • Collaborative relationships must be established among State, Federal, and community entities, in the United States and abroad. For instance, some border communities in California and Texas have international liaison offices to promote information sharing with Mexico.
  • There must be stakeholder buy-in for the process, including from practitioners, and practitioners may need to examine personal biases regarding the advantages of growing up in the United States versus other countries.
  • Practitioners must plan for communication and language barriers and other cultural competence issues.
  • A variety of funding options should be explored, including international organizations and consulates.

The issue brief includes a case study of a 15-year-old boy who was transported across the Mexican border into the United States at age 10 and separated from his Mexican family for 5 years. An FGC coordinator was able to work with health and human services agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Services, and California's International Liaison Office to locate the family and arrange FGC to help formulate the best plan for the youth.

The issue brief, Using Family Group Conferencing to Assist Immigrant Children and Families in the Child Welfare System, is available online: (199 KB)

Also, the American Humane Association has a webpage of resources on child welfare and immigration: