Implementation of the Family Group Conferencing model/philosophy for Dauphin County began in September 2001 with a brief presentation being made to the administrators of County Human Service Agencies and the Juvenile Probation Chief. Once completed, the model was then presented to top administrative and supervisory staff from the Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth. Suggestions related to implementation strategies, funding options and staffing of the project were provided.
Additionally, a lead person for the implementation and support of the model was identified. This lead individual was tasked with conducting extensive research of the model, forming and developing a county-wide Implementation Team and organizing county wide training related to the model.
Parameters related to the implementation plan were identified including budget issues, staffing needs and decision-making processes. With the assistance and guidance of the lead person, the Implementation Team expanded from a fairly small group to a current group of approximately 30 individuals. Members come from a variety of settings including Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Drug & Alcohol Services, Children & Youth, Juvenile Probation, Victim Witness, community members and a faith based organization. Currently our Implementation Team expanded to include members from Area Agency on Aging, Early Intervention, School Systems, and additional family members who have participated in actual Family Group Conferences.
With the assistance of the Implementation Team significant training occurred in Dauphin County reaching approximately 1000 individuals. About 200 individuals from a variety of settings have received Intensive Facilitator Training. Training has also included the involvement of the Juvenile Dependency Masters, Agency Solicitors, Guardian ad Litems as well as the Juvenile Dependency Judge. Again, input regarding implementation strategies was solicited from as many individuals as possible during these training opportunities. The Implementation Team also played a critical role in developing cross-system policies and procedures related to the model and in helping to educate the community about the model through providing 1-3 hour presentations in a variety of settings. Presentations have been made to provider agencies, faith-based organizations, foster parents, and community-based organizations.
In Dauphin County the decision was made to contract with private providers to assist in the implementation of the model. The contracted organizations provide the coordination and facilitation services needed in the model. The coordinator, while an employee of a provider agency, is housed within the Children & Youth Office several days per week.
As we move ahead in our implementation of Family Group Conferencing we are learning many valuable lessons regarding best practices of involving families and empowering them to take greater responsibility in providing for the safety, permanency, and well-being of their children. Additionally, Family Group Conferencing has supported the principles of Balanced & Restorative Justice allowing greater levels of accountability, community protection, competency development.