Youth and Family Engagement

Section 4.9

State and Local Policymakers and Advocates Should Mandate Meaningful Efforts to Engage Youth and Families in all Aspects of Case Planning, Service Delivery, Court Proceedings and Disposition Strategies

When child and family-serving systems step into the place of parents and exert control over youth who present with status offense behaviors, youth may receive needed attention and parents and caregivers may get a reprieve, but only in the short term.  Often a categorical array of services are offered or mandated that do not meet the youth and family’s individualized needs.1  Treatment plans for youth and families can become prescriptive and coercive, with no real buy-in from the child or family.2 As a result, many youth and families initially resist the intervention and ultimately comply in appearance only.3  The imposition of services without real child and family buy-in disempowers families and can create situations where they cycle in and out of systems for years, with poor outcomes.4  As discussed in Section 1.7, using a family teaming approach, system players can more fully engage youth and families by allowing them to show and use their expertise regarding their own needs and resources.

Family teaming approaches go by several different names: Family Group Decision-Making, Family Team Conferencing, Family Group Conferencing and Family Unity Meetings.  While approaches may differ in terms of form, they share several common and critical elements:

  • Intervention begins with the belief that all families have strengths.
  • Families are encouraged and supported to make decisions and plans.
  • Outcomes improve when families are involved in the decision-making process.
  • The “family team” is defined as broadly and inclusively as possible and the selection of the team includes input by family members.
  • Coordination and facilitation of meetings by competent and trained individuals is vital.5

Given the nature of behaviors labeled status offenses, and the underlying reasons for the behaviors, the family team approach is a perfect fit for status offense interventions and cases. Furthermore, 45 states currently use some type of family teaming approach for families involved in or at risk of entering the child welfare system, so most state and local jurisdictions already have the infrastructure needed to apply this approach to status offense interventions and cases.6

1 Handbook for Family Team Conferencing: Promoting Safe and Stable Families in Community Partnerships for Child Protection. 2001. The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group. Available at:

2 Id.

3 Id.

4 Id.

5 Bringing Families to the Table: A Comparative Guide to Family Meetings in Child Welfare (March 2002). Center for the Study of Social Policy. Available at:

6 Family Teaming: Comparing Approaches. (2009). The Annie E. Casey Foundation/Casey Family Services. Available at: