Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) Coordinator Tim Haggard believes that families can plan and provide safety for their children when they work together with the agency. It all started when a newborn was admitted for an infection, and the hospital staff were concerned that the child was being medically neglected. The parents missed bringing the baby in for follow-up appointments and the child showed signs of jaundice. The baby had also been seen wearing soiled clothes.

The mother and father were both just 16 years old and this was their first child. The mother told a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator that she would get frustrated when her baby cried, and she didn’t know what to do. She was afraid she might hurt her baby, and she said she had thrown things at her younger siblings and cousins and hurt them in the past. The father told the investigator that he had a history of drug abuse and was using methamphetamines, cocaine, or marijuana on a daily basis.

Tim reached out and brought together the baby’s family and caregivers to have everyone work on a plan for the baby’s safety and well-being. The meeting got off to a great start with a large turnout, including the child’s doctor and nurse, a medical student, the hospital’s case manager, and lots of family - grandparents, great-grandparents, and an aunt.

The family was very defensive at first. They said that it wasn’t fair that CPS was involved just because the parents were so young. After the family spoke, the investigator and doctor shared their concerns. The doctor also spent a great deal of time describing the parents’ strengths, including their courage in admitting they needed help.

Most importantly, the young mother and father told their families that these things were true - and they truly needed help. It was clear to Tim from the family’s reaction that they hadn’t known about all the young couple’s problems. Once they understood, the family quickly came to share the concerns of CPS and the hospital staff. With no further help from CPS, the family quickly created a plan to make sure there was adult supervision of the baby at all times, and they asked for more services from CPS and the community to help the young parents address their problems.

Together, CPS and the family made an agreement and a plan to provide a safety net for the baby. Now, the family, which had been so defensive and frustrated with CPS, couldn’t say enough about how much they appreciated participating in the family team meeting - and CPS’ willingness to help them.

Tim says it’s his experience that that when families get the chance they work hard to succeed. “It is so rewarding to see them creating their own, personal plans. Because when they do, they are more likely to “own” the plan and follow it. And that’s what Family Group Decision Making is all about.”