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What Social Workers Should Know About Family Group Decision-Making

Many social worker careers involve working with families who enter the child welfare system.

When a state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) agency gets involved in a case of child abuse or neglect, it will sometimes put the child into protective custody. From there, the best course forward for the child needs to be determined.

Most state’s child welfare systems work hard to keep family members involved in the decisions surrounding the care of a maltreated child. Through a process often referred to as Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM), family, friends, CPS workers, and professionals familiar with the family come together to contribute to the process that guides the child’s path.

What Social Workers Should Know About Family Group Decision-Making

In many cases, FGDM will involve a social worker. If you have or are thinking about a career in social work—whether you are/want to be a clinical social worker, medical social worker, school social worker, or a social worker in another kind of social work practice—you may find the FGDM process to be a useful tool when working with a family. Here’s what you need to know:

FGDM Includes a Number of Intervention Approaches

Family Group-Decision Making isn’t one, single approach. Instead, it’s a label for a collection of approaches, all of which can be used to help families make decisions about the future care of their children. Many U.S. states have implemented one or several forms of FGDM within their child welfare system.* The forms of FGDM being used in these localities include Family Group Conferences, Circles of Support, Family Team Meetings, Multi-Systemic Family Therapy, and others.

FGDM Is Designed for Children and Families

While ensuring the welfare of children is a central component of FGDM, the process is also designed for the good of the whole family. Proper FGDM can strengthen families and give them the tools they need to be better caregivers. According to the state of Texas—which utilizes FGDM in CPS cases—FGDM is most effective when it embraces a set of basic values, including:

  • All children should be free from harm.
  • Children are best raised in families.
  • Families should care for their children.
  • Families can make safe choices.
  • Children are safest when families and CPS work together. 
  • Families must be respected.
  • Families are the experts and can learn about their own strengths and needs.
  • Children should be removed only when there is a strong risk of harm.  

These basic values are just the starting point. Many states and localities (like Texas) utilize FGDM because it has proven to be effective. When FGDM is properly employed:

  • There is less trauma for children.
  • Culture, dignity, and values are respected.
  • Fathers and families are involved more often.
  • Community support is easier to find and use.

FGDM Allows Families to Create a Plan of Action

When the government gets involved in a child’s welfare, the child’s family can feel powerless. FGDM works against this by empowering families to play an active role in determining their child’s future. Under the guidance of professionals like social workers, families engaged in FGDM can discuss the barriers to properly caring for children within the family unit or within the family’s community and then develop a sensible and sustainable plan for removing or getting past those barriers. While this process can take time, it provides families and their communities an opportunity to take charge of a child’s future, rather than leaving the child’s care up to the discretion of the state. As long as everyone involved in FGDM is committed to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the child or children in question, a plan developed through FGDM can be quite effective.

How to Become a Social Worker Who Can Help With FGDM

Family Group Decision-Making is helping give maltreated children safe, loving futures. If you want to learn more about the various forms of FGDM and gain the expertise you’ll need to participate in the process, you should consider earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. This social worker degree is considered essential for many types of social work, and is often a prerequisite for social worker jobs that involve child welfare.

Thankfully, online education has made it more convenient than ever to earn your degree. When you enroll in an online MSW program, you can complete the majority of your coursework from home. In addition, online MSW programs let you earn a degree in social work on a flexible learning schedule. Rather than attending classes at a specific time on specific days, you can attend classes and handle your studies at whatever time of day and week works best for you.

An MSW online program at a university with CSWE-accreditation can help you gain the skills you need to guide families through difficult times. It’s a great way to make a big difference in people’s lives.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Family Group Decision-Making, Texas Health and Human Services, on the internet at www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Protection/Family_Support/fgdm.asp.

†Child Welfare Information Gateway, Family Group Decision-Making: State and Local Examples, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the internet at www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/assessment/approaches/family/family-group-examples.

Walden University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org

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