Following increased international attention and criticism since 2000 of the dramatic escalation in the numbers of Guatemalan children being unethically placed into intercountry adoptions, the country passed a new adoption law in 2007 and imposed an intercountry adoption moratorium until a stronger child protection system could be operationalized to ensure the safety and rights of children and their families. Despite some efforts at gatekeeping, children, however, continued to be admitted into child-care institutions without a systematic determination of their best interest or prioritizing family-based options. This article discusses the challenges in protecting Guatemalan children and their families from involuntary separation, due to extreme poverty and the lack of a comprehensive child protection system. Given the low resources of the country, they argue that transition to a fully developed child welfare system will be achieved only in incremental steps. In the meantime, there is an urgent need to develop culturally compatible and easily accessible means of empowering families and their immediate support systems to prevent unnecessary separations of children from their families. Family group conferencing (FGC) is proposed as an approach that holds the potential of keeping Guatemalan children connected to their families and communities. This article presents the process, results and implications of a pilot training and accompanying focus groups in which Guatemalan participants from government and civil society explored the efficacy and feasibility of the FGC model in their country.
Among other findings, the pre and post tests demonstrated that the participants began and ended the training with an overall grasp of basic concepts involved in the FGC model, and this was the case whatever their organisational affiliation. Even in the absence of a holistic formal child welfare system, participants believed that the FGC could leverage existing resources to impact a large number of children and families with a relatively small financial investment. Nevertheless, there were challenges in institutionalising the practice and achieving multisectoral agreement to implement it. A clear consensus was that FGC should be built into placement decisions with a standardised methodology to ensure that judges can order the FGC as an alternative placement strategy.