Family Engagement

Section 1.7

Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement, Justice, Social Service and School Professionals Should Employ Family Engagement Strategies that Identify and Emphasize a Family’s Strengths, and Empower Families to Find and Implement Solutions Outside of the Court System

Similar to youth engagement strategies, family engagement strategies focus on the strengths the family unit can bring to the process, not just the family’s deficits, and seek to access and leverage a family’s willingness to solve  problems with professional guidance.  Similar to ADR, family engagement strategies may limit child and family exposure to court and deeper justice system involvement and also help alleviate congested family or juvenile court dockets and can reduce the number of youth who are removed from their family’s care. They also provide a less formal setting for families to ask questions and better understand the status offense process, while giving professionals an opportunity to consult families in a meaningful way about what they want for their child and what the family needs to move forward.

For example, Family Group Decision Making (FGDM)1 is an engagement strategy that recognizes the importance of involving families in making decisions about children who need assistance and care.  The process can be initiated by the agency serving the alleged status offender and implemented at critical stages of the status offense case, such as before court petitioning, adjudication or at disposition.  A key aspect of FGDM is to allow the family to lead the decision-making, encouraging them to actively participate in identifying viable solutions to the problems they face. 2

It is incumbent upon the professionals working with the family to assess whether FGDM is appropriate and ensure that the youth is willing to participate. In instances where there is evidence of violence between the youth and parent, professionals should determine how FGDM should be altered to assure the youth is safe and comfortable participating in the process.  In limited circumstances, the approach may not be appropriate. 

1 Also may be called Family Group Conferences or Family Team Meetings.

2 Description of FGDM is adapted from American Humane. About Family Group Decision-Making (website). Available at: