Examining the Relationship Between Family Group Conferencing and Juvenile Recidivism

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Family Group Conferencing (FGC), also called Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM) is rooted in both a restorative justice and family-centered approach. Originating in New Zealand in 1989, FGC/FGDM was first implemented in the United States in 1995 and has since garnered interest nationally and globally. Much of the existing literature on FGC/FGDM focuses on young, first-time, non-violent offenders. In addition, existing literature has generally limited the follow-up periods for measuring recidivism, ranging from six to 18 months. Recently, I conducted an evaluation of FGC/FGCM with a two-year follow-up period that included all offense types, ages, and repeat and first-time offenders using data from Dauphin County Juvenile Probation Department in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Drawing on the individual case record data of 684 youth active with the juvenile probation department, the study used a quasi-experimental design to compare the recidivism rates of all juveniles completing a family group conference between 2004and 2008, with a comparison group of juveniles who did not participate in a family group conference. Recidivism, for the purpose of this study, was defined as being officially charged with a new offense, either a misdemeanor or felony, within two years.

The analysis suggests that juveniles who complete FGC can reduce their likelihood of recidivism. In fact, while controlling for variables (such as gender, race, age, age at first offense, year of referral, drug use history, grading of first offense, type of first offense, and history of out of home placement), completion of an FGC decreased the odds of recidivating by 43 percent.

The findings do raise some questions about the potential of an unmeasured variable to explain a portion of the sizeable effect. For example, the shift happening in juvenile justice policies and priorities around the country to emphasize family engagement and involvement may explain, in part, why there is such a significant effect from the completion of a conference. Or, perhaps it is not the conference itself leading to reduced recidivism, but the added layers of family involvement and engagement that FGC/FGDM fosters. The voluntary nature of completing the conference, along with family participation, ownership, and buy-in to the developed plan, and assistance with plan completion, could all be indicators of the strength of the family involvement model to increase success by effectively engaging families in decision-making.

The promising results of this evaluation support existing findings that demonstrate the success of restorative justice based programs. Continued research in this area, such as the work being done by Vera’s Family Justice Program, is needed to more fully understand and make use of the positive impact that families can have on young people’s success.

Comments

Hi Kelly

Your research is congruent with a study done by KPMG here in Australia into the Victorian Youth Justice Group Conferencing program. The evaluation found young people who participated in a group conference were less than half as likely to re-offend within 2-years after their conference.

This research was used as leverage for more funding and the program has since been consolidated and expanded, including the current development of an accreditation process for convenors.

Regards

Russell.

Hi Kelly
Is your evaluation available externally?

Thanks for sharing your research, Kelly. Would you be able to explain how you defined Family Group Conferencing for this study?

Thank you for your comments and questions. In response to the questions submitted:

"Is your evaluation available externally?"
I am in the process of finalizing the manuscript to submit for publication.

"Would you be able to explain how you defined Family Group Conferencing for this study?"
For the purposes of the study, FGC was defined in alignment with the implementation practices of Dauphin County. In Dauphin County, every family is offered a conference; whether they participate in the conference (or not) is entirely voluntary. It generally is not used as a means of conference between the juvenile and the victim (unless there is already an established relationship between them, or another special circumstance); rather it is used to involve the juvenile and the family in the case planning process. It aligns more with the FGCM model, but they call the actual event/process an FGC.

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