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FSA Service Spotlight: Family Group Decision Making

Since 1895, Family Service Association of NEPA has helped local children, individuals, families and communities achieve their full potential. In honor of their 125th anniversary, this nonprofit organization will share the stories behind their services. Join us every month to learn more about their diverse programs and how you can support their vision of building resilient families and thriving communities—one person at a time.

Working to Ensure the Safety of Children

In 2007, Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania (FSA), with the support of Luzerne County Children & Youth Services, established a noble program with an important mission: to assure children are protected, live free of abuse and neglect and are given every available opportunity to grow and develop into their best selves through the active use of family and community strengths and resources.

Our collaborative program – Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) – is a voluntary group exercise for Luzerne County residents. The program recognizes the role of families and their traditional power to best understand how to care for their members. It respectfully offers families the opportunity to come together as the best possible people to make decisions on keeping their children safe.

FGDM is primarily based on aspects of the Family Unity Model and the Family Group Conferencing process established in New Zealand. FGDM conferences in Pennsylvania generally include extensive preparation; an opening and sharing of strengths, concerns and resources; private family time; family presentation of the plan and plan acceptance by the referring agency; and plan implementation and monitoring.

This worthwhile program offers families the opportunity to join together with the people who are important in their lives, and who also have the goal of developing a plan to resolve identified concerns. In FGDM, the family group might include extended family, trusted friends, teachers, counselors, service providers, clergy or anyone else the family wishes to invite. All families who choose to enter into FGDM are guided by a coordinator, who will ensure that everyone involved is prepared and understands the guidelines to be successful.

The advantages for participating in the program are many:

  • FGDM helps the family understand the agency’s role and reason for involvement.
  • Families fully participate in planning for the safety and protection of their children.
  • Extended family, friends, community and agency representatives combine their strengths with the family in efforts to care for children.
  • The agency and the family work together, instead of against one another, to create support.
  • FGDM meetings will increase accountability for all participants.
  • FGDM meetings will support placement of children with extended family members, when appropriate.
  • FGDM meetings may decrease the time children are away from parents, and may also decrease the time the agency needs to be involved with the family.

For example, FGDM was instrumental in saving an adoption of a two-year-old girl who had been with her foster/adoptive family since birth. She was placed with her older sister, who had already been adopted by the family. Parental rights had been terminated, and the family was in the final stages of the adoption process – when tragedy struck. The foster/adoptive mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and the father with multiple sclerosis.

Given the situation, Luzerne County Children & Youth requested a FGDM meeting, knowing the family did have extended family that may be able to come together to save the adoption of the young child. Through the coordination process, numerous family members were contacted and all wanted to be part of the group.

The family group was held at a nearby church that the family attended. Adult children flew in from Florida, along with numerous other biological family members, family friends, church family, the child’s attorney and a Children & Youth caseworker and supervisor. After several hours of heart-wrenching discussion and planning, the family and support system developed a solid plan for the long-term care of the little girl and her sister.

Because of the organized FGDM conference, the little girl was adopted and was not removed from the only family she had ever known.

FSA’s program is supervised by Pauline Polny, B.S., who has extensive experience working with families experiencing difficulties. The FGDM coordinators in the program are Marlene Woods and Drew Feldman, who bring years of experience to the program.

For more information about the 14 programs and services FSA offers in 17 counties, please call the nonprofit at 570-823-5133 or visit our website.

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