Family Group Conferences as a Shared Decision-Making Strategy in Adults Mental Health Work
Family Group conferences (FGC) provide a system by which a client and their family reach jointly key intervention decisions, from a number of options proposed by professionals. The system originated in child protection social work. Conceptually FGC is based on the assumption that the family is potentially a supportive social system for an individual with a variety of difficulties, including mental ill health. Reaching a family network agreement can lead to long term positive outcomes in self-confidence and social relationships. This strategy of shared decision making (SDM) can re-unite the family around the client's needs and wishes. It fits well the strengths based and the recovery-oriented approaches to mental ill health. Methodologically, this article provides a narrative review of existing empirical research about FGC in the context of adult mental health. In addition, two community case studies consisting of videos of a mother experiencing mental ill health and a daughter are analysed in terms of their subjective experience of the FGCs they were involved in, and looks at both the process and the outcomes of FGCs. The key findings demonstrate a high level of satisfaction from participating in the FGC meeting, while the evidence pertaining to the outcomes is inconclusive. Only very few systematic review studies, or comparative studies of different approaches to family decision making, exist, and there are no studies which offer cost effectiveness analysis. Discussion: The observed gap between the satisfaction from the process of FGC by the participants vs. the inconclusive outcomes relates to the implementation phase, in which the decisions made by the family are tested. Evaluating FGC processes and outcomes is complex. A systematic and comprehensive research of the implementation process is missing at this stage. In conclusion, FGC is a promising strategy of SDM in adult mental health. The research evidence indicates the need for further exploration of its implementation process, evaluative methodology and methods.