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COVID-19: implications for our practice

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Printed: 16/05/2021
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Last updated: 01/07/2019

Preparing for the care and protection family group conference

The care and protection coordinator helps to prepare all participants to make sure they are clear about their roles, responsibilities and what is expected from them. They also ensure relevant information is available.

Hold planning meetings

The care and protection coordinator, social worker and supervisor have 1 or more planning meetings before the family group conference.

They discuss:

  • what is known about te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau, and the development of a clear risk statement or review of an existing one, with a focus on both the safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi
  • whether further information or assessment is needed
  • any contentious issues that may come up at the conference and strategies to manage these — the practice leader could be involved in these discussions
  • how to engage in a way that is mana enhancing and supports the whanaungatanga responsibilities of those who will participate
  • whether any entitled people might be disruptive and strategies to manage this (for example, they could participate through a phone or video call, letter or pre-recorded message, or by having someone speak on their behalf, or they could be excluded from the conference) — the family/whānau may also have suggestions
  • all information relevant to the needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi that will be presented to the family/whānau to assist them in their decision-making
  • what we know about the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi, or how best to get their views now
  • how to include the views and participation of te tamaiti before, during and after the conference
  • any further information or assessments needed for the family group conference, including on the health and education needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi
  • cultural considerations, such as the supports and resources needed to convene and hold a family group conference that demonstrates respect and understanding of cultural needs — this includes the venue, procedure, tikanga and kawa, interpreters and the suitability of the coordinator
  • whānau exploration — what has been done and what needs to be done
  • if and when to hold hui ā-whānau or whānau hui
  • family/whānau dynamics, including safety issues for te tamaiti or rangatahi, family/whānau, professionals and Oranga Tamariki staff — check if there are personal safety orders in place, why they were made and who is covered, and the current relationship and what contact they have, and think about what steps can be taken to help keep that person physically and emotionally safe during the conference (who can support them, where is the safest venue and what safety precautions are needed, such as seating, handheld alarms and security guards)
  • barriers to attendance, including geographical distance, bail conditions, and emotional and physical safety concerns
  • roles and responsibilities of Oranga Tamariki staff
  • services, resources and funding options — discuss any proposed expenditure with the relevant manager
  • possible delays in holding the family group conference, and if the delays might place te tamaiti or rangatahi at any increased risk of harm — is the current plan robust enough until the conference is held?
  • how best to present the assessments or reports and other information relevant to the conference in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner. This needs to be inclusive of disability, mental capacity and language comprehension of all those in attendance. A range of formats that incorporate verbal, visual and written mediums can be used.

The coordinator, social worker and supervisor might also meet closer to the family group conference to make sure everything is on track and the risk statement is still relevant.

Pre-family group conference planning meeting — template (DOCX 145 KB)

Consult with the care and protection resource panel

When they have received the referral from the social worker, the coordinator consults with the care and protection resource panel to get advice and information about:

  • te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau
  • what services are available in the community that they might be able to use
  • setting up the family group conference, including cultural and safety considerations
  • the exclusion of entitled members.

Members of the panel may attend the family group conference as information givers, if considered appropriate by the coordinator.

Care and protection resource panel

Involve te tamaiti or rangatahi

As soon as possible, the coordinator meets with te tamaiti or rangatahi to ensure they understand the purpose of the family group conference, why it is needed and what to expect, and how decisions made at the family group conference could affect them.

Policy: Participation of tamariki — providing information, ensuring understanding and incorporating their views

The coordinator needs to gather the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi and prepare them for the family group conference. To find the best and safest way to engage with te tamaiti or rangatahi, the coordinator consults with:

  • the social worker
  • family/whānau
  • appropriate professionals, such as their teacher, a non-government organisation or the lawyer for child.

Whenever possible the coordinator meets te tamaiti or rangatahi face to face to provide them with information about what will be said in the hui ā-whānau and family group conference. Information needs to be appropriate for their age, development and cultural needs, and provided in an appropriate way. The information should cover why, what, who, roles and process and their rights.

The coordinator should reflect on:

  • what is known already about trauma that is likely to have been experienced by te tamaiti or rangatahi, and how is this currently impacting on them
  • what needs to be done now to make sure te tamaiti or rangatahi is safe and feels safe while the conference process is underway.

The coordinator should consider whether te tamaiti or rangatahi should attend the conference or be otherwise supported to participate, and have their views heard by other means including through a representative. Te tamaiti or rangatahi must be physically and emotionally safe if they are to participate. If they are unwilling to participate or are too young or unable to participate due to disability or their level of understanding, effective ways must be found to include their views and needs in the conference process, and how they feel about the decisions being made.

Give them the opportunity to express how they want to present their views and offer a range of options that are appropriate for their age, gender, culture, development and/or disability. For example, they could:

  • read from something they prepared before the conference
  • talk in a language they feel comfortable with
  • express their views through other means, such as drawings, the Three Houses, or the safety house
  • help to identify people who can support them while they speak, or speak for them.

Three Houses engagement tool

The family/whānau can help identify if te tamaiti or rangatahi needs a support person and who could take on this role. If that support person is not an entitled member, the coordinator needs to discuss the support person’s attendance and role with the entitled members before the family group conference.

People entitled to attend a family group conference

The coordinator must make every effort to meet with te tamaiti or rangatahi face to face. It may sometimes be appropriate for the social worker, a family/whānau member, a caregiver or other professional to be there too.

Check back that te tamaiti or rangatahi understands about the conference in a way that is appropriate for their age, developmental stage and culture. For example, ask them to repeat back in their own words or using scaling questions to check the level of understanding.

Engage family/whānau

The care and protection coordinator consults with family/whānau and the wider family group, and helps them prepare for the family group conference:

  • Before approaching family/whānau, the coordinator familiarises themselves with the referral information, issues and circumstances of te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau in order to help build a good rapport.
  • They need to consider what is known about the trauma that may have been experienced by family/whānau, as well as te tamaiti or rangatahi.
  • Hui ā-whānau and whānau hui before the conference are particularly important when family/whānau need time and support to work through what is happening.

Trauma-informed practice

Trauma-informed theory

Initial contact by coordinator

As soon as the referral is accepted, the coordinator:

  • sends first contact letters out to known family/whānau
  • promptly follows up the letter by contacting known family/whānau and arranging to meet face to face with those willing and able to do so
  • takes all reasonable avenues to identify and contact additional family/whānau — consider speaking to colleagues, community leaders and known family/whānau and searching CYRAS records.

Consider the culture and circumstances of family/whānau when planning contact. Support from kairaranga ā-whānau or cultural support people may be appropriate.

The coordinator then meets with the family/whānau face to face to discuss:

  • what the family group conference is about and what to expect from the process
  • the people who should attend the family group conference, and the legal entitlement for certain people to be involved
  • whether there are members of the extended family/whānau or hapū and iwi who may be able to provide support to meet the care and protection needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi — the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi on this must be considered.

Make every effort to meet with family/whānau face to face. If family/whānau are unwilling or unable to meet, the coordinator can communicate by phone, letter, email and text message.

When it has not been possible to meet family/whānau or te tamaiti or rangatahi face to face, the reasons for this are to be documented and family/whānau are to be fully consulted about the conference through other means.

Cultural, ethnic and spiritual considerations

The coordinator needs to ensure the conference can reflect and respect the culture of te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau. When working with Māori, identify their hapū and iwi affiliation. Then the coordinator can:

  • involve the wider whānau (as well as hapū and iwi where identified by whānau)
  • provide support to te tamaiti or rangatahi and their immediate family/whānau
  • conduct the conference with cultural sensitivity.

Talk about any protocols and procedures for the conference that meet their cultural, ethnic or spiritual needs.

Encourage and support whānau Māori to use tikanga Māori protocols for the conference.

Ask the family/whānau:

  • if they would like someone else involved for the family/whānau consultation or the conference — perhaps an interpreter, cultural leader or elder
  • how that person could be involved in the conference — the person could be included as an entitled member or an information giver or support person with no voting rights (all the entitled participants must agree before a support person can attend).

The coordinator may also work with whānau Māori to engage iwi social services, kaumātua and kaitakawaenga in the family group conference process.

Consult about the conference details

Make all reasonable endeavours to advise family/whānau of their rights in terms of being consulted about the date, time, place, people who should attend and the procedure to be adopted at the conference. This is required under section 21 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

  • Explore options for where and when the conference could be held and provide family/whānau with this information. Encourage them to choose a time and place for the conference that meets their needs while ensuring they understand it may not be possible to meet all their wishes.
  • As far as possible, accommodate the wishes of the family/whānau, while managing issues of practicality, safety, cost and needs of other participants.
  • Discuss whether the coordinator will facilitate the conference, or if the family/whānau would like someone else to facilitate — all the entitled participants must agree on the facilitator before the conference starts. 
  • Discuss any protocols the family/whānau want to use at the conference.
  • Advise the family/whānau of the date, time and place for the conference as soon as it has been agreed.

Care and protection coordinator to consult family, whānau, or family group on convening of family group conference — section 21 of Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Clarify the purpose of the conference

Provide an outline of the purpose of the conference. There are videos to help with this on the external Oranga Tamariki website.

Care and protection family group conferences — Oranga Tamariki website

Section 28 of the Oranga Tamariki Act sets out that the conference is to consider:

  • matters relating to the care or protection or wellbeing of that tamaiti or rangatahi as the conference thinks fit
  • whether te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection (when it has been convened on account this concern)
  • if the conference considers 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.

Functions of family group conference — section 28 of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

Conferences can also be held to review plans and the progress made.

It may be helpful to talk about how the conference is linked to the purpose and principles of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989:

  • The wellbeing and best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi are paramount and this is why we are involved.
  • Wellbeing means we consider concerns about the safety, welfare and security of te tamaiti or rangatahi, but also have regard to their longer-term needs — like attachment and belonging, family/whānau connections, health, education and other development needs.
  • The family group conference process is family/whānau-led, is based on the principles in sections 4A(1), 5 and 13 of the Oranga Tamariki Act and includes mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga responsibilities.
  • Participation of te tamaiti or rangatahi is supported, and decisions need to have regard to their views.
  • Family/whānau have the right to participate in decision-making.

Clarify what to expect at the conference

Make sure family/whānau fully understand:

  • the issues and concerns with regard to the safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi that have prompted the need for the conference.
  • that the conference ensures family/whānau are supported and encouraged to come up with solutions and remedies that they can present to the conference
  • the roles of the coordinator and social worker as entitled members of the conference.

Explain what is likely to be discussed at the conference, so that family/whānau can prepare for it.

  • Provide family/whānau with the opportunity to discuss any worries or concerns they have about the conference. Help develop strategies for how to manage any concerns that are identified.
  • Consider the aspects of the conference that might be difficult. Support family/whānau to prepare for these in a way that works for them, such as bringing a support person or using different mediums for presenting to the conference.
  • Discuss how best to present the assessments, reports and other information relevant to the conference in a respectful and culturally appropriate manner.
  • Provide information about services and resources.
  • Check for their understanding of:
    • the purpose of the conference, and their responsibility to come up with solutions and remedies, with our support
    • the care and protection concerns for te tamaiti or rangatahi
    • the possible outcomes of the conference and how these can be given effect:
      • when a plan is agreed, or
      • when agreement is not reached.
  • Check for understanding by using approaches such as encouraging family/whānau to reflect back their own understanding of the process.

Hui ā-whānau

Hui ā-whānau are meetings with family/whānau led by coordinators or social workers before the family group conference. Work through the staff roles that can support hui ā-whānau — that is, kairaranga ā-whānau, social worker and coordinator.

Ensure the family/whānau knows the purpose of the hui ā-whānau — to share and understand the concerns and the supporting information and to begin to think about possible solutions and recommendations to bring to the conference. It is important that the family/whānau do not confuse the hui ā-whānau with the family group conference — be clear on the purpose of each.

We can provide family/whānau with assistance to convene or participate in the hui ā-whānau.

Whānau hui can follow the hui ā-whānau. Only family/whānau are present at this hui, so that they can consider the information provided, and their own solutions. Ensure there is time for the family/whānau to remain at the venue after the hui ā-whānau is complete.

Be ready to discuss the many benefits of hui ā-whānau and whānau hui with participants — for example:

  • Hui ā-whānau:
    • prepares family/whānau for the family group conference
    • respects the tikanga of Māori participants
    • builds shared understanding of how family/whānau see the concerns
    • enables the social worker to inform the family/whānau about what it is that they are worried about — the Tuituia assessment can be discussed
    • builds understanding, so that people at the conference can focus on solutions and the plan.
  • Whānau hui provides the family/whānau with an opportunity to discuss and consider their own solutions before the family group conference.

Let the hui ā-whānau participants know that:

  • the information is sensitive and they are being informed as they are part of the family/whānau or family group
  • they are being told as they need an opportunity to understand the care or protection issues and have time to consider ways that they may be able to help.

Entitled people unable to attend the conference

Some family/whānau (including an imprisoned parent, guardian or other person of key significance to te tamaiti or rangatahi) may be unwilling or not able to attend the conference in person, or may have been excluded by the coordinator. The coordinator must consult with them and gather their views, and ensure their views are presented at the conference in a manner that works best.

For those unable to attend in person, we should first consider options such as a phone or video call. This maintains their entitlement to be part of the discussions and have a say in the outcome.

Other options for those unable to attend in person and for excluded members include having their views presented at the conference through a letter or pre-recorded message, or by having someone speak on their behalf.

Record the views of all known family/whānau unable to attend the conference clearly and succinctly on CYRAS and in the file for te tamaiti or rangatahi.

Social worker referral for a care and protection family group conference — compile a list of participants

Engage professionals

Professionals can provide important information and advice that will help the people at the family group conference agree on decisions, recommendations and plans. This includes information relating to the health, education, employment and training needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi. They attend the conference as an information giver, and usually only for the period needed to present their information and support discussion of that information.

The coordinator should think about:

  • who has had previous involvement with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau
  • what services have been most helpful
  • who may be able to provide enduring support after Oranga Tamariki involvement has ended.

The pre-conference planning meetings include consideration of any further assessments, support people to be involved and the required next steps:

  • Health and education issues are considered and, if appropriate, health and education professionals are invited to participate in the conference.
  • Professionals and support people are advised as soon as possible of their desired attendance or participation at the conference.
  • Professionals and support people already working with the family/whānau are consulted about their level of participation.
  • When professionals and support people are new to or have limited understanding of the conference, every effort is made to consult with them face to face to explain the conference process and their role within it.

Participation in the conference

The coordinator then helps prepare professionals and other information givers by meeting with them face to face, if possible, and:

  • explaining the family group conference process
  • explaining their role and responsibilities — participants need to be ready to explain their role at the conference, and participants representing a service will need to provide details about what the service can offer te tamaiti or rangatahi and their family/whānau, and how and when their service can be accessed
  • guiding them on the most appropriate way to present their information so it can be understood by all participants
  • deciding how to present their views or information if they’re unable to attend the conference in person
  • providing them with information about what they can expect at the conference, such as cultural protocols, potential risks and issues and how long they can expect to be present.

During the conference, the coordinator facilitates dialogue between professionals and the family/whānau to make sure the family/whānau understand these services, so they can make the best decisions for te tamaiti or rangatahi during family time.