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March 2018Vol. 19, No. 2Evaluation of Family Group Conferencing and Its Effects on Rereferrals and Out-of-Home Placements

A recent article in Child Abuse & Neglect describes a 3-year randomized controlled study that aimed to determine whether a referral to family group conferencing (FGC) was associated with improvements in three outcomes of interest: rereferrals (i.e., repeat referrals after the initial referral), substantiated rereferrals (when child protective services [CPS] has reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused or neglected), or out-of-home placements among families receiving in-home child welfare services.

Data for the study were collected from two neighboring counties in a large western state that participated in a multiyear evaluation of the use of family meetings for child welfare in-home services. A total of 542 families were included in the study, 270 randomly assigned to the treatment group (receiving FGC) and 272 randomly assigned to the comparison group. After a caseworker referred a family in the treatment group for FGC, a date was set for the FGC to take place, which was usually between 1 and 279 days after the referral, with an average of 41 days after the FGC referral. Meeting logs, developed by the researchers, tracked treatment and control groups and determined if the FGC occurred and who participated. For families participating in FGC, researchers tracked rereferrals to CPS, substantiated rereferrals, and out-of-home placements beginning 1 day after the family's FGC and throughout the rest of the study period.

Results of the study include the following:

  • Sixteen percent of families (in either the treatment or control group) experienced a rereferral to CPS, approximately 5 percent had a substantiated rereferral, and almost 6 percent had a child placed in out-of-home care.
  • Of 78 rereferrals to CPS and 28 out-of-home placements, 82 percent and 79 percent, respectively, occurred within 14 months of being referred to FGC.
  • Regardless of assignment, rates of rereferral, substantiated rereferral, and out-of-home placements were higher among families that had an African-American mother than those with a White mother or Hispanic mother.

The article suggests that, controlling for other case factors, participation in FGC did not have a statistically significant effect on the outcomes of rereferral, substantiated rereferral, or out-of-home placement. However, researchers do not suggest increasing child welfare system involvement and intervention. Rather, these findings may indicate that the FGC model may not be necessary during this phase of service to produce certain outcomes and that children remain safe as measured by substantiation and placement provision.

"Effectiveness of Family Group Conferencing in Preventing Repeat Referrals to Child Protective Services and Out-of-Home Placements," by Dana M. Hollinshead, Tyler W. Corwin, Erin J. Maher, Lisa Merkel-Holguin, Heather Allan, and John D. Fluke (Child Abuse & Neglect, 69), is available at