Making meetings meaningful: Good practice when involving families in decision-making

Lorna Stabler
Research Associate

12 July 2019

The driving purpose of the partnership between What Works for Children’s Social Care and CASCADE at Cardiff University is that outcomes can be improved by the use of evidence-based approaches by practitioners. This has guided our latest report – a review of approaches that involve parents and children in key decision-making meetings.

We knew from that this approach – used in Family Group Conferencing, Family Group Decision-Making, Family Unity Meetings and others– showed promise, so this review focuses on developing a theory of how shared decision-making meetings might work, who they might work for, and what circumstances are important in helping, or stopping them from working.

The findings of this review are key ‘pathways’ through which these types of shared decision-making meetings, when done well, can help to reduce the need for children to be in care.

The review identified that there are three key ‘pathways’ through which shared decision-making meetings may be more likely to be effective in safely reducing the need for children to be in care: Enabling collaboration and engagement; Building trust and reducing shame; Enabling participation in decision-making. These ‘pathways’ operate across the meeting process and are interconnected. Each can be facilitated or prevented in various ways and by different people involved in the process.

However, knowing this is not enough. The next step – using the evidence to provoke change – is vital. That is why we have created a practice guide with a detailed description of what good practice looks like, and some examples of what actions can be taken to achieve it.

These suggestions range from allowing the families to choose the time, location and refreshments served at the meeting to build collaboration and engagement; to building trust and reducing stigma by considering carefully how much information is shared with the various participants; and ensuring families have time away from professionals to develop their plan themselves to feel ownership.

What does this mean for practice?

The review shows how families, children and young people can be included in decision-making meetings – which isn’t new information. However, it also indicates that this is a long process and while the meeting itself is important, time needs to be invested into preparation before the meeting for it to work well. Moreover, a plan that is developed in the meeting is one outcome, but to effectively create change for a family, what happens after the meeting is just as important. We hope the practice guide is useful because it brings together the information in one place with a rationale for why these aspects of practice are important. There is much less literature exploring how follow up from the meeting can be effective, and how families, children and young people can help to shape services to meet their needs in the longer term. We hope to look at this in the future.

Get involved

We have created the practice guide as a useful resource to help social workers get the best outcomes possible from shared decision-making meetings. If you are interested in using more of our practice guides, check out the What Works for Children’s Social Care website, follow us on Twitter and sign up for the newsletter.

If you are a social worker you can also have your voice heard by signing up to our regular polling. Sign up as an individual and receive a £5 M&S voucher, or sign up as a group of six to receive a food hamper.