"In a family meeting, do the kids actually get to vote on the final decision, or are they just giving input and opinions, and then the parents make the decision?"
Good question. Everyone votes in the family meeting. On rarest of occasions the parents could veto a vote if it is dangerous or goes against the family mission statement or family morals in any way.
The reason that everyone must vote, is because this is meeting where everyone in the family finds their focus and works on communicating to each other. This is also where all the positive and negative consequences that the family uses in the weeks to come will start to mean something.
If the parents just decide on all family issues, then the child feels that he/she has to work around a system imposed upon him by the parents. This isn't proper self government, this is working a system and often motivation to manipulate.
However, if the youth get to help decide upon consequences then they feel a duty to follow them. They see fairness and know that the best decision for them and the family was made, and so must be followed. They see themselves as rule makers, so they begin to own the idea that they also have to decide to be rule keepers because they helped make the rules and discussed the problems to be solved.
Some times my husband and I see that the decision the majority of the group wants will be a bad decision and we want them to safely see that making bad decisions has its consequences too, so we will vote for the ideas the children are embracing. By the next meeting the children are begging to discuss the topic from the previous week and find a new consequence or plan to follow. In this way, we teach the children that they must look past the minute when deciding things in life. They see that sometimes small problems can become larger problems if not handled correctly the first time.
Because of the children's involvement in the meetings, they all become more like the leaders I am training them to be. The family meetings are really the very heart of the happy family that knows how to analyze their own behaviors and find ways to control them. This meeting teaches the children how to look at themselves and decide how to fix the problems they find. I am making my children proactive by involving them so much in the meetings.
There is more about family meetings, in a post called "Family Meeting Tips."
Happy meeting! ~Nicholeen