Coming Together for Sam: FGDM (FGC) Helps a Family Find a Solution of Its Own
Jan 21, 2010
From the Restorative Practices E-Forum by Lynn Welden:
The Gordon family (names are fictitious), of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA, recently experienced a life-affirming restorative process — a family group decision-making (FGDM) conference (also called family group conferencing or FGC). The family (four young adult children — two boys and two girls — their divorced parents, Linda and Bob, as well as several members of their extended family) came together in an FGDM conference to help 17-year-old son Sam take better control of his life. The process worked extremely well for Sam, but what the family didn’t expect, they said, was that the FGDM would also enhance their connections and relationships in many other ways.
During the past year, Sam started using drugs and alcohol, hanging out with fellow “users” in school and buying and selling marijuana. He had trouble sharing his feelings, had problems with self-esteem and, according to his father, started making rash decisions and looking for instant gratification. “My son is a good, bright kid,” said Sam’s father. “He is very talented. The stuff he got involved with was really stupid.” Sam’s actions ultimately led to his involvement in a car accident and arrest on DWI (driving while intoxicated) charges related to marijuana use.
The family was shaken and alarmed. Sam was placed in juvenile detention and later put on probation. During his court hearing, at the request of his probation officer, Steve Lowery, the judge ordered an FGDM conference. The objective of the conference was to identify a safe and appropriate plan to keep Sam sober while still living within the community and to prevent out-of-home placement.
Lowery was firm with Sam in explaining why he felt the process beneficial and necessary, telling him, “You’re at the point now where unless you think about seriously committing to asking for help, going through a process like an FGDM, you’re probably looking at court placement in a program for the next nine to 12 months.”
“But why an FGDM?” the Gordons asked. “How can this help our son and our family?”
....The Gordon’s FGDM conference began as the group shared food together. The ritual helped the family put their own stamp on the conference, as food is very important to them as a gesture of caring. Then Sam’s uncle opened the FGDM with a prayer, another way the family made the FGDM their own. Sam, though nervous, read a letter expressing his appreciation to everyone for taking time from a holiday weekend to come together for him. Asking for their help, Sam was met with a roomful of supportive voices telling him how much they loved him and how they would do whatever was needed to keep him sober, safe and out of the “system.” Glenna Bonargo and the other professionals answered the family group’s questions about available services and legal issues before leaving the room.
Two hours of private family time followed. By the end, the group had come up with a very detailed plan, which the family felt they really “owned” because they had devised it themselves. The family decided to get together once a month to review Sam’s progress, by phone, email, face to face, or via Skype (internet video telephone). They also recommended daily phone check-ins by Sam’s friends to reinforce the sense of support. Sam’s uncle, a very strong voice in the family, volunteered to collaborate with the family to ensure that they followed the plan.
....Today, several months after the conference, Sam and the rest of the extended Gordon family remain positively affected by this restorative process. Said Sam’s father Bob: “I encourage everyone to try this process. Have an open mind about how an FGDM can benefit your kid and your family. Our plan calls for us to get together once a month. Sure it’s for Sam, but it’s also helping the whole family remain close and connected.”
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