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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

View or download a Word version of FAQs

  1. What is Team Decision Making (TDM)?
  2.  How does TDM differ from Family Group Conferencing (e.g., the New Zealand model)?
  3.  When should Team Decision Making meetings be convened?
  4. How much time should we plan for each TDM meeting?
  5. Where are the meetings held?
  6. Who convenes the TDM meeting?
  7. Who should be invited to TDM meetings?
  8. How do we get everyone to the table so quickly (i.e., pre-removal decision or the next working day after an emergency removal)?
  9. Is it possible to have the Emergency Response worker who placed the child at the table on a next-day meeting?
  10.  Should supervisors attend TDM meetings with their social workers?
  11.  What if there are concerns because of a parent's mental health, use of alcohol/drugs, or fear that they may be violent?
  12. Should children be included in the meetings? What age?
  13.  How do we get community to the table?
  14. Should attorneys be invited to attend TDM meetings?
  15. Who facilitates the TDM meeting?
  16. What qualifications should the facilitator have/what level of staff?
  17. Does there have to be a full time facilitator? (Can't we just add this to someone's current job responsibilities?)
  18. What kind of training does a facilitator need to do the job?
  19. How many meetings should facilitators facilitate in a day?
  20. Can the social worker facilitate his/her own meeting?
  21. What will be discussed at the meeting?
  22. Can we promise confidentiality of the proceedings to participants?
  23. Who should make the decision if the group can’t reach consensus? 
  24. Is there a review process if someone in the group really objects to the final decision?
  25. Should staff bring case files and case notes to a TDM meeting?
  26. Can any participants take their own notes at the Team Decision Making meeting?
  27. How can this really be good for families if there often isn’t time to prepare, time to ensure all involved parties are able to attend, and time to ‘nurture’ the family during a longer meeting?
  28. How do TDM meetings help with identifying kin for placement & support?
  29. Can a TDM meeting be used to develop a case plan?
  30. How can safety and risk assessment information be incorporated into the TDM meeting? Doesn’t it intimidate families to talk about safety and risk issues in this setting?
  31. How do staff typically react to this new practice of decision making?
  32. How do we ensure that the Safety/Action Plan items are completed when they should be?
  33. How do we utilize auxiliary (back up) facilitators?
  34. What data should be captured?

1. What is Team Decision Making (TDM)?
Team Decision Making (TDM) takes place in a meeting that includes family members, their extended family or other support persons, caregivers (if the child is in placement), service providers, other community representatives, the social worker, and the supervisor. Everyone who participates in the meeting is treated with dignity and respect. The meeting is a sharing of all information about the family which relates to the protection of the children and functioning of the family. The goal is to reach consensus on a decision regarding placement and to make a plan which protects the children and preserves or reunifies the family.

2. How does TDM differ from Family Group Conferencing (e.g., the New Zealand model)?
TDM shares nearly identical underlying values with FGC and similar approaches. They all value family empowerment, inclusivity of participants, and are strength-based. TDM differs primarily in the purpose (to make a placement-related decision) and timing (short amount of time to coordinate and it must occur prior to a placement decision except in cases emergencies, when it would need to occur prior to the court hearing.) FGDM and TDM can both be practiced as the practices serve different purposes and both benefit families.

3. When should Team Decision Making meetings be convened?
Team Decision Making meetings should be convened:

  • Imminent Risk/Emergency Removal - When agency staff believe, based on an assessment of risk, that a child needs to be removed from his/her family or the child has been removed due to exigency.
  • Placement - When any placement change is being contemplated. These TDM meetings are held to help prevent disruptions and unplanned moves in placement and to ensure that all less restrictive options are exhausted before considering a more restrictive setting.
  • Permanency - When agency staff is recommending reunification or other permanent plan.

4. How much time should we plan for each TDM meeting?
The average meeting time is 1-2 hours. However, other factors such as group size, language needs/interpretation, or other special circumstances impact meeting length. Meetings are typically scheduled at 2 hour intervals.

5. Where are the meetings held?
Team Decision Making meetings are held at the child welfare agency offices and community locations

6. Who convenes the TDM meeting?
After consulting with their supervisor, the social worker requests a TDM meeting.

7. Who should be invited to TDM meetings?
The TDM meeting participants are different for each meeting depending on the circumstances. Participants who should always be included are parents, youth as appropriate, family members and support persons identified by the parents and youth, community members who represent the family's community, caregivers as applicable, the social worker and their supervisor. Other attendees such as service providers, CalWorks, or other participants identified by the family or social worker may also be invited.

8. How do we get everyone to the table so quickly (i.e., pre-removal decision or the next working day after an emergency removal)?
The agency should have a strong infrastructure in place that supports quickly convening TDM meetings. Because each system is different, how this occurs varies from county to county.

9. Is it possible to have the Emergency Response worker who placed the child at the table on a next-day meeting?
Yes. Systems who have seen the most success have re-evaluated their front end processes and some have restructured accordingly.

10. Should supervisors attend TDM meetings with their social workers?
Many counties have mandated supervisor attendance. It is highly recommended that supervisors attend TDM meetings with their social workers. Their attendance can lend additional support to the social worker, they can model appropriate behavior, and it gives them an opportunity to observe how their worker interacts with and engages families and partners. Social workers consistently state that their supervisor's attendance is beneficial to them and the families they work with. For additional information refer to Supervisors Attendance at TDM Meetings.

11. What if there are concerns because of a parent's mental health, use of alcohol/drugs, or fear that they may be violent?
Automatic exclusion of a parent should be avoided as much as possible. Assessment of an individual's ability to participate in a meeting should be done on a case-by-case basis. For instance a parent who arrives under the influence should not be automatically excluded. Unless they are violent or extremely disruptive they still have valuable input and information to provide. Part of the role of the facilitator is to ensure that participants feel safe during the meeting. If a participant's behavior is disruptive to the process the facilitator can reassess their continued participation. When the social worker schedules the meeting, s/he should alert the facilitator to any concerns.

12. Should children be included in the meetings? What age?
While many agencies have a recommended age of 10 or 12, each child/youth should be assessed individually.  It is strongly recommended that children and youth be included in meetings, as age and developmentally appropriate.  However, for youth in their teens it should be presumed that participating in TDM meetings provides an important vehicle for voice and choice which should only be denied under extenuating circumstances. 

13. How do we get community to the table?
First we must leverage existing relationships and forge new partnerships.  Child welfare must reach out to potential community partners in new ways and offer new approaches for sharing its work.  Including representatives from the families own community is a compelling way to underline the invitation to partnership. Sites have explored numerous strategies to make this happen, including contracting with neighborhood collaboratives and supporting the development of networks of volunteers who serve on a rotation basis to attend meetings for families from their neighborhoods.

14. Should attorneys be invited to attend TDM meetings?
It is not recommended that attorneys attend TDM meetings. TDM invites families and other stakeholders to participate in decisions that historically have been made by child welfare workers independently. It is important to remember that the child welfare agency has the legal responsibility to make a decision and can still make the decision independently. TDM is not a legal proceeding. The forum for attorneys is the courtroom. Many participants may not be comfortable speaking freely in the presence of lawyers and some lawyers may use the meeting as an opportunity for pre-trial discovery.

15. Who facilitates the TDM meeting?
Team Decision Making meetings are facilitated by trained senior child welfare staff, typically selected from the agency' s most skilled and experienced social workers. In facilitating meetings, they are able to bring clinical knowledge, engagement skills, and knowledge of the system to the table. They play a critical function in educating less seasoned staff as well as external participants in matters of best practice as well as agency policy and applicable law.

16. What qualifications should the facilitator have/what level of staff?
The facilitator(s) should be selected based on skills and experience. The facilitator should be the agency's best and brightest: a person who has had years of experience in child welfare social work, and who is respected by his/her peers for the experience. Many agencies use a supervisor classification or equivalent.

17. Does there have to be a full time facilitator? (Can' t we just add this to someone's current job responsibilities?)
TDM requires the ability to immediately provide a facilitated meeting when an emergency removal is about to occur or has occurred. Because critical child welfare decisions need to be made quickly convening a meeting in a short amount of time is crucial. A staff person with other responsibilities may make them inaccessible when needed. Failure to have a facilitator immediately available could result in unnecessary removals.

18. What kind of training does a facilitator need to do the job?
The facilitator is required to complete the 4-day TDM Facilitator’s Training before facilitating any TDM meetings.  The training of a facilitator does not end after completing the 4-day training.  Facilitators should continue to participate in training to enhance their skills and knowledge.

19. How many meetings should facilitators facilitate in a day?
Typically full time facilitators facilitate 2 -3 meetings a day.  When determining the appropriate number of meetings it is important to consider length of the individual’s work day and travel between locations.

20.  Can the social worker facilitate his/her own meeting?
No. The role of the facilitator is to lead the participants through the process of the meeting and manage group dynamics.  The role of the social worker is to provide content for the group in order to reach an informed decision. By having both the facilitator and the social worker participate in the process the agency has more child welfare experts helping to ensure good decisions at this critical juncture.  

21. What will be discussed at the meeting?
At the meeting the discussion will include the following:

  • Risk and safety concerns
  • Strengths that are protective factors and those that can assist in minimizing the risk and safety concerns
  • Ideas for placement/custody and services to support the child(ren) and family
  • A decision based on the discussion that occurred at the meeting

22. Can we promise confidentiality of the proceedings to participants?
No. It is recommended that the meetings be framed in terms of respect, privacy, and sensitivity rather than confidentiality. Families are informed that information may need to be shared outside of the meeting for case planning purposes, in litigation, or if a new allegation of abuse or neglect surfaces.

23. Who should make the decision if the group can’t reach consensus?
The goal of TDM is to reach a decision that the entire group can support.  If that is not possible, the next level of decision making is consensus among the agency’s child welfare staff.  If consensus among agency staff is not reached the facilitator will ask the family’s primary social worker to make the decision.

24. Is there a review process if someone in the group really objects to the final decision?
If any agency staff that is present at the meeting, including the facilitator, feel that the decision is

A) unsafe
B) violates law or policy or
C) is not least restrictive/intrusive

they are obligated to request a review of the decision from a designated, high level administrator within the agency. That administrator’s decision becomes the agency’s official position.

25.  Should staff bring case files and case notes to a TDM meeting?
Staff should not bring case files or notes to the meeting unless they are willing to make copies for all participants.  Because social workers will have reviewed information about the family they are prepared to share all the information necessary.

26. Can any participants take their own notes at the Team Decision Making meeting?
Taking notes is not recommended.  All participants will receive a copy of the Safety/Action Plan at the conclusion of each meeting.  The Safety/Action Plan notes the placement decision made and the steps that need to be taken in order to support that decision.  However, if individuals insist on taking notes in the meeting for them to remember what they would like to say it is imperative that those be collected by the facilitator at the end of the meeting and disposed of appropriately. 

27. How can this really be good for families if there often isn’t time to prepare, time to ensure all involved parties are able to attend, and time to ‘nurture’ the family during a longer meeting?
TDM provides the family with a voice in EVERY placement-related decision their children face; that is something the system has never before guaranteed. Even when the meeting is held under less than ideal conditions, families appreciate that their input is respected and valued.

28. How do TDM meetings help with identifying kin for placement & support?
During the TDM discussion of safe options and alternatives, a discussion with family members in attendance often leads to a much broader picture of the family’s kinship network. Even if few family members are present, the team focuses on exploring all known kin.  It is important to remember that just because a relative or NREFM cannot provide placement, they most often are able to provide other forms of support.

29. Can a TDM meeting be used to develop a case plan?
Case planning should never be the focus of the TDM meeting.  However, often case planning activities are included in the plan in order to ensure safety or placement stability. 

30. How can safety and risk assessment information be incorporated into the TDM meeting? Doesn’t it intimidate families to talk about safety and risk issues in this setting?
A thorough discussion of risk and safety concerns including the family’s strengths and needs is a part of every TDM meeting. If a safety/risk assessment tool is part of the social worker’s assessment process, then s/he is expected to discuss the findings in a manner understandable by all. Facilitators may assist in ensuring that safety and risk concerns are described in lay language, not jargon, and that clear connections are made between behaviors of concern and their resulting risks to children.

31. How do staff typically react to this new practice of decision making?
As with any practice change some staff will embrace the inclusive process while others will resist the idea of TDM. As TDM becomes a regular part of their practice, most staff come to view it as a supportive and potentially time-saving tool which often assists in connecting families to new, community-based services and broadens the range of ideas for strengthening those families.

32.  How do we ensure that the Safety/Action Plan items are completed when they should be?
A Safety/Action Plan will be created at the TDM meeting.  After the meeting it is the social worker’s responsibility to ensure that all items get completed on the Safety/Action Plan.  In many cases this will mean following up with individuals.  It is the supervisor’s responsibility to check in with the social worker during supervision to ensure that responsibilities are being met and tasks are completed.

33.  How do we utilize auxiliary (back up) facilitators?
It is important to train and have a plan for utilization of auxiliary facilitators.  Once they have been trained the expectation is that they will be facilitating regularly in order to maintain their skills. It is critical that the child welfare agency thoughtfully create a plan that will allow the auxiliary facilitators to practice their skills. The recommendation is to have them facilitate a minimum of twice a month.

34.  What data should be captured?
At the end of each meeting, facilitators complete TDM forms that capture basic meeting information such as: the meeting type, who attended the meeting, where the meeting was held, duration of the meeting, decision/outcome of the meeting, and where the child was placed.