Responsibilities of the coordinator
The coordinator must make sure the people who take part in the family group conference understand that the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 provides that the discussion and information shared in the conference are privileged.
It is an offence under the Act to publish any report of the proceedings of the conference by any means, including social media. There can be legal consequences, including a fine of up to $2000 for any individual who commits that offence.
This also means that anything said during a conference can't be used in a court or before any person acting judicially — for example, discussions can't be repeated to a judge or a justice of the peace in a court, tribunal or parole board hearing.
This protection encourages free and frank discussion at the family group conference. Many people will only speak freely if they believe the information they share will not be repeated anywhere else.
However, there may be other consequences — for example, it's still a crime if someone assaults another person at a conference. However, nothing that is said at the conference can be used as evidence in court against them.
What people can say
People who take part in the family group conference can:
- share the decisions, recommendations and plans agreed at the conference
- discuss their own views with a social worker or a police officer outside of the conference, as long as they're aware of people's right to privacy and their view isn't linked to what was said or heard at the conference — they can say 'I think this...' or 'My view is...' but not 'At the family group conference, I said...'
What people can't say
People who take part in the family group conference can't:
- tell others what happened or who said what, even if all the people who took part agree to it
- answer direct answers such as 'What was the mother's view at the family group conference?'
The ability of the family group conference to regulate its own procedure does not mean it can agree to record details about any non-agreement, or the opinions of individual participants or their differing views. An exception is the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi, which must be recorded in the written decision, and if the views are not followed, the reasons for doing so.
Family group conference plan
When writing up the family group conference plan developed and agreed by entitled members at the conference, the coordinator must:
- not include any personal information
- not record who agreed or disagreed on any point or the views of any participant — except for the views of te tamaiti or rangatahi, which must be recorded, along with the reason why any of those views were not followed
- only include details of the agreed decisions, recommendations and plans — do not include any detail about what was discussed as background to the decisions, recommendations and plans unless the entitled people at the family group conference agree and it directly relates. For example, the plan could note 'The conference agreed to record the following background information' or 'To address an identified alcohol problem, J will complete an alcohol assessment'.
If the family group conference is part of court proceedings
The court receives a copy of the plan that was developed at the family group conference, and people who took part in the conference can tell the court:
- that the conference was held
- what was agreed — the record of decisions, recommendations and plans
- their personal view if the court wants to hear from them (through a letter or in person) — but their view should not be linked to what was said or heard at the conference (they may only say 'My view is...')
People who took part in the family group conference, including the coordinator, social worker, police, lawyers and court officer, can't tell the court about the different positions taken by people at the conference.