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June 2015Vol. 16, No. 5Site Visit: Families United Family Group Conferencing Program

Using a Children's Bureau Family Connection grant, the Youth and Family Services Division (YFS) of the San Diego YMCA, in partnership with San Diego County Child Welfare Services (CWS), Casey Family Programs, and Harder and Company Community Research, developed and implemented the Families United Family Group Conferencing Program. The project uses a regionalized service delivery model based on the Guidelines for Family Group Decision Making in Child Welfare1 created by the American Humane Association. This demonstration project is measuring whether the use of Family Group Conferencing (FGC), which supports families in finding their own solutions to problems, will improve child welfare outcomes.

The signed San Diego County Memorandum of Agreement requires that all CWS voluntary2 cases be referred to Families United. Initially, the treatment group and the comparison group both consisted of voluntary cases selected at random; however, the referrals that were received did not meet the projected number of cases. Therefore, 2 years into the project, Families United, with the Children's Bureau's approval, expanded the types of cases accepted in the project to include families receiving services from Kinship Support, a kinship program administered by YMCA Families United; CWS court-dependent cases; and cases of youth in long-term residential placements without a permanent family resource or a permanent connection. The evaluation process and methodology was modified to adjust for the changes in case type and case randomization.

During part of the grant period, the FGC coordinators were colocated in two CWS offices in the county, which allowed them to attend and participate in multidisciplinary team meetings with CWS social workers, discuss cases with the assigned social worker, participate in case planning, and promote the project as a beneficial service to families served by CWS.

Project staff, under the direction of Casey Family Programs, conducted Permanency Roundtables3 for 10 youth in long-term residential placements who did not have a permanent family resource or a permanent connection. In addition to the Permanency Roundtable, Family Finding4 was used to locate family members who may be a resource for the youth. Family members, once located, were invited to participate with the youth in an FGC meeting with the goal of establishing permanency for the youth with a family member.

The project evaluators, in conjunction with the Advisory Team, developed a toolkit that will provide other grantees, as well as entities considering applying for a demonstration grant, with guidance on how to work with community partners on a grant and how to sustain effective collaboration in a research-based project.

The project evaluation uses both process and outcome evaluations. The process evaluation assesses the implementation of the project, fidelity to the model, integration of FGC into the CWS process, and the achievement of project goals. The outcome evaluation uses the randomized controlled trial design to assess the effectiveness of the FGC compared with the typical CWS processes. The outcomes evaluation examines improvements in child and family well-being and the capacity to resolve the issues that led to CWS involvement.

For more information on this project, contact Danielle Zuniga at The full site visit report will soon be available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website at

The Families United Family Group Conferencing Program is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CF0027). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from site visits made on behalf of the Children's Bureau.

1 To review the Guidelines for Family Group Decision Making in Child Welfare, please visit (1 MB).
2 Voluntary cases are cases in which a substantiated incident of child maltreatment occurred, but the incident did not meet the standard for court involvement or removal of the child from the home.
3 A permanency roundtable is a structured, professional case consultation that examines the barriers to establishing permanency for a child in out-of-home placement and results in a plan to expedite permanency for the child.
4 Family Finding uses various methods and strategies to locate and engage relatives of children currently living in out-of-home care with the goal of connecting children with a family member.