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Fuzzy Gobbledygook Duping Mothers

November 2, 2009 permalink

As an alternative to adversarial court processes, two articles in the Brantford Expositor push for a Maori custom called FGDM. Here is a definition found on the internet:

Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM) - is a strength-based, family-focused intervention process mediated by a facilitator. The FGDM meeting is designed to strengthen the natural care-giving system for the children. Participants include family members, family-identified support persons, CFS caseworkers and other service providers. Participants assist the family in creating and following through with safety and permanency plans.

There are really only two ways to make a decision. A single person has responsibility (a ship's captain), or a board or committee decides by vote, usually by majority, sometimes supermajority or even unanimity (the classic trial jury). Under FGDM social workers will outnumber the parents, reducing them to advisors. This makes FGDM even worse than courts.



Court system adversarial by its nature

Posted November 2, 2009

A court proceeding to determine the future of a child under the care of the Children's Aid Society is antagonistic.

It pits parents against each other and against the agency that wants to help. It sets up a judge, who has limited knowledge of the family situation, as the final decider of the child's fate.

It's exclusive, generally focusing on the parents and child and not the wider family.

Because of confidentiality rules, the extended family may not even know that a major decision is being made about the child.

At the end of the proceeding, one side is always sad or angry, feeling like they "lost" or were unheard.

And court proceedings are expensive with lawyers, affidavits, experts and support workers needed to make the process work.

FGDM is nothing like a court case.

Developed by the Maori culture, FGDM focuses on being inclusive, with a co-operative spirit that puts the well-being of the child above everything.

Even when there's a safety issue that means one person can't be part of the circle, they can still participate by phone or by letter to share their input.

Source: Brantford Expositor

Family circles making magic happen

Posted By SUSAN GAMBLE, Posted November 2, 2009

For once, it wasn't about the courts or the Children's Aid Society or the money or the power: it was all about him.

When "Alex" stepped into a Family Group Decision-Making circle earlier this year in May, everyone in the circle -parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and support workers -were there to help decide on his future, and the 15-year-old was a critical part of that decision.

The teen had been away from his birth family for 10 years.

As a Crown ward, Alex, whose real name can't be used, lived in a foster home but, when he got into trouble there, he was moved to a group home.

"As soon as I was there I demanded contact with my parents," says Alex. "I had seen them for visits every week."

His demand set off an alternative process that's still relatively new in Canada.

Instead of using the courts, lawyers, affidavits and endless hearings, many cases are being referred to a Family Group Decision- Making co-ordinator who draws together everyone who loves a particular child and gives them a voice in the decision-making process.

For Alex, it was almost magical.

"The whole process took only six months and I was back with my family," he says.

"We had a three-hour meeting and that day I was out of the group home and living with my grandma."

Later, Alex moved in with his father for the summer and now is permanently living with his mother in Cambridge. He's doing well and is happy.

As the co-ordinator who made the magic happen, Marilee Sherry is justifiably proud of the exciting process.

"We see the same thing over and over and over," says Sherry. "The family focuses on its love for the children and they sort out what's best for them. They don't want their children hurt."

The kids who are the focus of the circles are typically Crown wards, in the care of Children's Aid and those who have suffered at the hands of a family member in some way.

The Children's Aid Society lays out it's non-negotiables -maybe it says for the sake of the child's safety, the child absolutely can't live in the same house as its mother -and the family members, well-prepared by a FGDM co-ordinator, take it from there.

While the co-ordinators are paid through the CAS, they don't work for them.

In fact, there's a barrier between the co-ordinators and their parent agency: the co-ordinators won't pass on information and can't access CAS files about the families.

"Our job is to walk the middle of the road and not to take sides, including the CAS side," explains Sherry. "We're here to hold everyone, even the CAS, accountable."

The circle could be a landmine waiting to be stepped upon. There are often feuding parents, estranged grandparents, angry friends or neighbours and professional support workers with strong opinions.

The circle co-ordinator does lots of preparation for the event.

Sherry, who has led almost 100 circles in the last four years, talks to each participant, getting input, explaining options and urging them to think first of the well-being of the child in question.

On the day of the event, relatives come together in a wary way but, for many, the ice is broken by the very presence of the child.

"Some family members have never even met the child in question so there are often tears," says Sherry.

Of course, there's some tension.

Participants often have sleepless nights before the circle takes place and sometimes, when the circle first begins, the tension is thick.

"It takes a lot of humility and courage on the part of the parents to agree to this and to agree to have both sides of the family come together," says Sherry.

The co-ordinator summarizes the goal, steers the circle in the right direction and then leaves the family alone, which is difficult for the person who has worked so hard to bring people together.

That's when the magic takes place.

As the process unfolds, some of the participants have to get up and leave for a while but they generally return and continue talking.

Sometimes the co-ordinator is asked back into the room to help smooth out a bumpy spot.

If the discussion goes on, the circle may stretch into the evening. The average time a circle takes is about four-and-a-half hours.

"It's like a family party. There's food and snacks and conversation," says Barbara Melara, a second co-ordinator. "People who attend these meetings, especially children, remember them for a long long time."

Ultimately, the child stays in the family 84% of the time.

Somehow a plan is worked out so the child stays with his or her parents or with a family member.

And there are generally good feelings at the way the process has been handled with families asking why no one offered a FGDM circle earlier.

"Families don't want to lose their children and this is a chance to look at the wider family and see if it's possible that the family can all chip in and help," says Sherry.

If that doesn't work, the foster family often becomes part of the family, a move that also benefits the child.

The circle is followed with a court order based on the family plan, and support and supervision from the CAS, which is eventually able to back out of the child's life.

While Ontario is seeing a steady growth in FGDM, New Brunswick that's the bright light in the process, says Sherry.

"They've gone whole hog by changing legislation and policies and procedures and it's taken off like a shot."

Sherry has travelled east to help advise the province, train co-ordinators and educate the Child Welfare staff there.

While she's delighted that Melara's now in place to double the number of cases Brantford can handle, and a Six Nations co-ordinator is just finishing his training, she says a more appropriate number of co-ordinators for this area would be five.

"There's a wait list developing and families shouldn't have to wait for this help."

Plus Sherry would love to see the process expanded to help families through other critical decisions: prisoners who are being paroled, soldiers returning from war, elders needing to move and youth justice issues all could be tackled with a family circle.

"We need to get to the point where courts and case workers are the alternative and family decision making is the norm," says Sherry.

"When we do this, we feel like we're finally doing the kind of social work we just talked about in school."

Source: Brantford Expositor
articles found by Rob Ferguson