Youth participation in child welfare decision making: A focused ethnographyedit
This dissertation examines youth participation in child welfare decision-making in the context of permanency planning family team conferences. It explores the factors that influence youth attendance and participation in decision-making opportunities. It also examines the strategies conference facilitators use to engage youth in decision-making in permanency planning family team conferences. The study employed a focused ethnography design, characterized by relatively short-term field visits, intensive data collection and intensive data analysis. Data collection included observations of permanency planning family team conferences, followed by in-depth interviews with young people and conference facilitators. Grounded theory conventions for data analysis, including initial coding, focused coding, theoretical coding, and analytic memos, were used. Data analysis focused on gaining a deeper understanding of how youth are incorporated into decision-making procedures, including a comparison of youth and conference facilitators’ perceptions and experiences. It also explored the specific strategies facilitators used to engage youth in decision-making at the family team conference. The study findings demonstrate that youth attendance and participation in child welfare decision-making opportunities are influenced by the degree of relationship between youth and agency staff. Youth in the study valued workers who provided them with a combination of instrumental and emotional support. Factors that facilitated the development of a positive relationship with agency staff included, case continuity, non-judgmental listening, establishing trust, and transcending roles. Regarding facilitator engagement strategies, findings revealed two different facilitation styles: adult centric and youth centric. Adult centric facilitation placed adults at the center of decision making by failing to engage youth, silencing the youth voice, adopting the adult narrative, and going through the motions. Youth centric facilitation placed youth at the center of decision making by establishing trust, encouraging youth to speak, adapting the youth narrative, and demonstrating genuine care and concern. The facilitation styles are demonstrated through case illustrations and examples. The study’s policy and practice implications, limitations and areas of further research are presented.