The care and protection coordinator usually facilitates the family group conference, although the family/whānau may choose someone else to facilitate and at times the coordinator may co-facilitate with another person. However the coordinator must be present to record the outcome of the conference.
The facilitator should:
- establish a safe and interactive environment where all participants are able to contribute, voice their opinions freely and be listened to
- encourage participants to think of ways to support te tamaiti or rangatahi and address their needs
- make sure everyone leaves the conference with a clear understanding of the plan, their roles and responsibilities, and the timeframes for actions to occur.
Tamaiti and rangatahi participation
The voice of te tamaiti or rangatahi
Tamariki and rangatahi have a right to express their views in matters that affect them — this is critical to the success of any plan.
When the coordinator is preparing for the family group conference, they should work with te tamaiti or rangatahi to ensure they can share their views and needs, and how they feel about the decisions being made.
Maintain focus on te tamaiti or rangatahi
The coordinator ensures te tamaiti or rangatahi and their wellbeing and best interests are kept at the centre by:
- keeping the conference focused on developing solutions to address the safety and needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi
- if necessary, steering conversation away from adult issues unrelated to the safety, wellbeing, needs, risks and strengths of te tamaiti or rangatahi
- making sure the voice of te tamaiti or rangatahi is meaningfully expressed in the conference and reminding entitled participants to consider the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi in family time
- monitoring the wellbeing of tamariki and rangatahi who are present
- ensuring that proceedings protect the dignity and mana of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Family/whānau are encouraged to give te tamaiti or rangatahi the opportunity to share their views and feelings about decisions made at the conference in a way that keeps them safe (for example, taking them aside with a trusted person), and supporting them to share their views about proposed decisions.
- Te tamaiti or rangatahi is supported to talk in a language they feel comfortable with, or in a way that is meaningful to them, such as through pictures and letters.
- When te tamaiti is too young, or is unable to participate, there is an effective means of representing their views in the conference process.
- Where appropriate, interpreters or communication assistants are engaged.
- Every effort is made to ensure the social worker and information givers present information in a manner that emphasises the experiences of te tamaiti or rangatahi, and describes the impact the concerns highlighted have on te tamaiti or rangatahi, such as the impact of being exposed to family violence.
- Any views that te tamaiti or rangatahi expresses must be taken into account. Any written record must set out these views and, if those views were not followed, include the reasons for not doing so.
- The outcome of the conference, the reasons for it, and how it will affect them must be explained to te tamaiti or rangatahi.
Process for the family group conference
1 Start the family group conference
The coordinator or other facilitator:
- opens the family group conference in the way the family/whānau requested
- starts the introductions
- addresses housekeeping and health and safety issues
- checks that everyone understands that the family group conference is a privileged meeting that is protected by law
- checks that everyone is aware of the principles of the legislation and the care and protection decision-making process
- checks that everyone is aware of their role in the family group conference — who is an entitled member of the conference and who is attending to provide information and advice
- makes sure that family/whānau understand the purpose of the family group conference — this is recapping information that will have been provided when the coordinator and social worker met with family/whānau (including at hui ā-whānau) to prepare. Specifically, if the conference considers that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection or is in need of assistance, the conference is then to make the decisions, recommendations, and a plan that are necessary or desirable, for the care, protection, needs or wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
2 Explain the care and protection grounds
The family group conference must first agree that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection:
- The care and protection coordinator clearly explains the basis for the conference and explains in plain language the parts of section 14(1) under which the referral to the conference was made.
- The social worker or other referrer explains why they believe te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection by presenting their information, including the Tuituia or other assessment and report with any other supporting evidence for their belief.
3 Seeking agreement to the care or protection concerns
The care and protection conference can only make decisions or recommendations or develop a plan for te tamaiti or rangatahi if it first agrees that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection on one of more of the grounds in section 14(1) (see section 28(b)).
Family/whānau and other entitled participants may wish to hear from those attending the conference to provide information and/or to deliberate in private before deciding whether they agree that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection on any or all of the section 14(1) grounds.
If it is agreed that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection, the conference can go on to make decisions and recommendations and develop a plan to address the need for care or protection. Where the conference does not agree that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection, there is a non-agreement and a plan cannot be made based on those concerns.
See the section below on non-agreement.
The conference does not need to agree that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection if the conference has been convened for the purpose of reviewing a family group conference or court plan.
4 Information sharing
Professionals and other information givers are given the opportunity to present their information. The care and protection coordinator also makes sure the views of people unable to attend the family group conference are presented.
The coordinator makes sure the professionals and other information givers are supported to provide relevant information in a respectful, family friendly and culturally appropriate manner.
The entitled participants decide whether the professionals and other information givers should remain in the conference for the whole time or come in to present their information and then leave the conference. They may remain outside or provide a contact phone number to be able to answer any further questions.
If vital information isn’t available on the day, the family group conference can be adjourned by agreement and reconvened at a later date.
5 Family/whānau private deliberations
At the conference the family/whānau have the right to private family time to consider all information and develop a proposed plan for the safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi. This is when the family/whānau-led decision-making is achieved.
Family/whānau are to be supported and encouraged to use this time. They may want to have someone facilitate the discussion. Other members of the conference are not able to take part unless the family/whānau invites them. They need to be comfortable, and have access to appropriate resources such as paper, pens and pads.
In the lead up to family time, encourage family/whānau to think about what they would like to happen for te tamaiti or rangatahi and what they would like to achieve from the conference:
- Emphasise the strengths of family/whānau and encourage family/whānau to think creatively about how these can help develop a plan that is in the best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi, keeps them safe and promotes their wellbeing.
- Make sure they know:
- the relevant information that is available and that they are able to ask for further information during family time
- of their right to support for their plans, unless clearly impracticable.
- Support the family/whānau to:
- explore the resources available to support the plan by using approaches that are meaningful for them, such as the Three Houses, pictures, eco-maps and genograms
- develop their own solutions to address the risks or concerns identified for te tamaiti or rangatahi
- create a picture of what things will look like after the worries are resolved (solution focused).
- In addition to the safety of te tamaiti or rangatahi, encourage family/whānau to have regard to their wider wellbeing needs:
- What arrangements will provide for a safe, stable loving home?
- What is in the best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi?
- What will help their longer-term wellbeing, as well as immediate safety and security?
6 Develop the plan
The coordinator works with the family/whānau and the social worker to develop the family group conference plan. This plan will become the record of the decisions, recommendations and plans agreed to by the entitled participants.
The plan is written in language that tamariki, rangatahi and family/whānau can understand, and the care and protection coordinator checks that all participants not only agree but also support the plan. If the plan is to have a good chance of success, it needs the commitment of everyone involved.
7 Close the family group conference
To end the family group conference, the coordinator explains how they will distribute the plan to the participants, and to te tamaiti or rangatahi if they didn’t attend the conference or left before final decisions were made.
The coordinator explains what will happen next, including the review and the possibility that the conference will be reconvened.
The conference is then closed in the way the family/whānau requested.
If it is necessary, the family group conference may be adjourned to a time and place determined by the conference at the time. However, this should not lead to undue delay in making decisions. Note that section 5 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 requires that decisions should be made and implemented promptly and in a timeframe appropriate to the age and development of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
It will not always be possible to reach agreement during a family group conference.
If there is no agreement that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection, then the conference stops and the coordinator records only that there was no agreement.
If there is agreement to the care and protection concerns but the conference is unable to agree on a plan then the coordinator records that the concerns were agreed and there was no agreement to a plan.
If there is agreement to the concerns and unanimous agreement to some of the matters discussed, then the agreed parts of the plan can be recorded and the matters that were discussed but not agreed to are not recorded.
If there is non-agreement in a conference that was referred by a social worker or police officer, the social worker or police officer will talk to their supervisor about what needs to happen next. They will talk about:
- whether to reconvene the conference at a later date
- whether any immediate actions need to be taken to ensure the safety of te tamaiti or rangatahi in the meantime
- whether they need to make an application for a care or protection order, given the social worker’s belief that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection.
If there is non-agreement in a conference that was referred by a court or an organisation that is concerned with child wellbeing, the coordinator reports the outcome to a social worker and the court or organisation.
For all family group conferences where there is non-agreement, the coordinator consults with the care and protection resource panel.
The coordinator must make sure everyone leaves the conference with a clear understanding of the plan, their roles and responsibilities and the timeframes for actions to occur:
- Check that participants understand the plan. For example, walk through each person’s understanding of their responsibilities, tasks and timeframes.
- Clarify who is entitled to receive a copy of the plan, explain how this will happen and emphasise any tasks or actions that need immediate action.