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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/our-work/interventions/family-group-conferencing/family-group-conferencing-practice-standards/
Printed: 29/02/2024
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Last updated: 10/01/2022

Family group conferencing practice standards

These practice standards cover the key practice requirements for care and protection coordinators, youth justice coordinators and social workers to support high-quality family group conferencing.

What is high-quality family group conferencing

When the family group conference process is well managed:

  • social workers provide coordinators with a comprehensive family group conference referral, informed by a quality assessment
  • tamariki, rangatahi and their whānau or family are well prepared and can actively participate
  • victims and key professionals are fully informed and engaged
  • plans are focused on the safety and wellbeing outcomes for te tamaiti, or the 4 primary considerations for youth justice (the wellbeing and best interests of rangatahi, public interest, the interests of the victim and accountability)
  • plans are supported through implementation and review.

Practice standard 1: Quality referral

Best practice family group conferencing starts with quality social work practice, particularly when the process starts with a referral from a social worker. The social worker must provide a comprehensive referral, informed by a quality assessment. This enables a coordinator to start convening the family group conference from the best possible position.

Elements of practice standard 1

  1. For care or protection family group conferences, the practitioner must have clear grounds to form a belief that te tamaiti or rangatahi is in need of care or protection under section 14(1) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.
  2. The referral must provide all the information required to convene a family group conference, including a holistic assessment of the strengths and safety and wellbeing needs of te tamaiti.
  3. The whānau or family must be fully informed about the referral and the reasons for the referral by the social worker.
  4. The social worker must also advise them of the pathways available for them to formulate a plan.
  5. The referral must include detail on the specific identity or cultural dynamics and values of te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family, to support the coordinator when convening the family group conference.

This standard aligns with the practice standards:

Keep accurate records

Create, implement and review a written assessment and plan

Element 1 of this standard relates to care or protection. The other 3 elements are relevant to both care and protection, and youth justice.

Practice standard 2: The voice of te tamaiti or rangatahi

Tamariki say that one of the most important things is to be listened to, know they have been heard and be involved in discussion of the issues and decisions that affect them. When tamariki are involved and contribute to the decisions made about their lives, they gain a sense of ownership and are far more likely to work with plans they have contributed to.

Our commitment to the principle of mana tamaiti requires us to:

  • interact face to face with te tamaiti
  • consider their rights and what to do when their rights are impacted
  • act on the information provided by te tamaiti and, if we can't, explain the rationale to them
  • act in accordance with trauma-informed practices, to protect against the diminishing of mana and violation of tapu.

The coordinator, working with the allocated social worker, lays the pathway for te tamaiti to be meaningfully involved in the family group conference process. This means meeting them face to face to prepare them for the family group conference and determine together the best way for them to participate, and to support them throughout the process.

Elements of practice standard 2

  1. Before the conference, the coordinator must help te tamaiti understand about the conference and why it is needed.
  2. At the conference, te tamaiti must be supported to freely express their views on matters that affect them, and their views must be taken into account and recorded. If te tamaiti is too young, has disabilities or is unable or unwilling to participate, we must find an effective way to include their views and needs in the conference.

This standard aligns with the practice standards:

See and engage tamariki

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

Practice standard 3: Meaningfully engaged whānau or family

For a coordinator, good preparation begins with getting to know the whānau or family, and building trust with them. The coordinator makes sure the whānau or family understands the concerns, and our commitment to ensuring a safe, stable and loving home for tamariki at the first opportunity, as well as the need to consider the interests of victims and accountability if rangatahi have offended.

Face-to-face engagement with whānau or family and other important people is central to mana-enhancing practice. Face to face, the coordinator can ensure the whānau or family understands:

  • why there is going to be a conference
  • how they can contribute to make sure the conference truly represents the whānau or family
  • that they will be asked to develop a plan that supports the wellbeing and best interests of te tamaiti and rangatahi and addresses any care and protection concerns, need for assistance or offending behaviour.

The coordinator can work through with the whānau or family:

  • who else needs to be involved, including key whānau, hapū and iwi members who may be entitled to participate with the agreement of the whānau or family – these are the kaitiaki who have the respect of the whānau, and whom the whānau or family identify as whānau
  • where and when it should be held
  • protocols and procedures for the conference that meet their needs, including encouraging use of tikanga Māori protocols.

Elements of practice standard 3

  1. Whānau or family must be engaged with at the earliest stages of involvement. Whakapapa and whanaungatanga obligations must be supported by encouraging the identification and involvement of key whānau, hapū and iwi members who are eligible to participate as whānau. Whānau or family (maternal and paternal) should be met face to face before the family group conference.
  2. Whānau or family must be consulted about where and when the conference is held and any protocols they wish to adopt at the conference.
  3. Whānau or family must be informed about what they can expect at the conference and assisted to think through what aspects of the conference may be difficult and how they will deal with this.
  4. Ensure whānau or family understand the pathways available to them to formulate a plan.
  5. When it is applicable (that is, rangatahi admit their offending), whānau or family must be advised of the need to consider restorative justice options at the conference.
  6. When individuals from whānau or family are unable to attend the conference, the coordinator must provide an effective means for presenting their views at the conference.

Engagement with whānau or family to seek support from wider whānau reflects the principles of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga – the carrying out of responsibilities based on obligations to whakapapa, and wider kinship ties.

This standard aligns with the practice standards:

See and engage whānau, wider family, caregivers and when appropriate victims of offending by tamariki

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

Practice standard 4: The right support people

The coordinator must identify and invite the right professionals and other support people to contribute the information the family group conference needs to support decision-making with regard to te tamaiti or rangatahi.

The support people must be assisted to understand why they are being invited and what they need to provide for the conference. Professionals providing information need to be able to do this in a way that supports whānau-led decision-making.

Those coming with their assessment or other information need to understand the culture of the whānau or family and the procedure of the family group conference. The coordinator must ensure that the providers of information are prepared before the conference to share the information in a way that is respectful and culturally appropriate.

Elements of practice standard 4

The family group conference coordinator must ensure that:

  1. all people who are able to support and contribute to the family group conference, including professionals, iwi and caregivers, are identified and included in the process
  2. participants arrive with a clear understanding of the family group conference process, their role and how they can best present their information
  3. participants representing a service are able to provide details about what the service can offer te tamaiti and their whānau or family, and how and when their service can be accessed
  4. for people unable to attend the conference, there is an effective means for presenting their views or information at the conference.

This standard aligns with the practice standard:

Work closely in partnership with others

Practice standard 5: All information

All relevant information on the needs, strengths and risks of te tamaiti and their whānau or family must be gathered and shared in a frank and honest way. This includes information that is relevant to the longer-term development and wellbeing of te tamaiti, as well as more immediate needs.

Whānau or family need to clearly understand why the conference is being held, what the concerns are and the options for planning – that is, a plan that addresses care and protection, the needs for assistance or both of these. We must be sure that the information is fully understood, and face-to-face meetings and offering to meet with the whānau or family as a group before the conference are the best ways to achieve this.

When held before the conference, hui ā-whānau (meetings with whānau or family led by social workers with support by coordinators) provide an opportunity to inform the whānau or family about what the worries or concerns about te tamaiti or rangatahi are. The Tuituia and other assessments, and any other information, can be discussed. This will allow the whānau or family time to consider all the information that will be presented at the family group conference and will provide them with an opportunity to discuss and consider their own solutions before the conference. Having worked through the concerns beforehand, participants can focus on the solutions at the conference that follows.

The presentation of the information must be done in a way that is respectful and culturally appropriate.

Elements of practice standard 5

  1. Prior to the conference, the coordinator must gather all relevant assessment information and advice, and initiate any further assessments that are required.
  2. The coordinator must consider holding hui ā-whānau prior to the conference to share assessment information with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family so there are no surprises at the conference.
  3. Comprehensive information about te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family must be presented respectfully and in a way that is appropriate to the whānau or family, taking into account their cultural considerations.

This standard aligns with the practice standards:

Create, implement and review a written assessment and plan

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

Practice standard 6: Engaged victims

The interests of the victim are a primary consideration of the process for youth justice family group conferences. Being part of the family group conference process allows the victim to have input into how rangatahi is held accountable for their offending. Their involvement is a key part of the restorative process. It can offer a real challenge to the view of te tamaiti about the impact of their offending, as well as meeting the victim's own needs.

The coordinator must engage sensitively with the victim to develop a positive relationship with them, and support their participation in the conference.

Elements of practice standard 6

The coordinator must ensure:

  1. victims are engaged with in the way that works best for them, and encouraged and supported to participate and contribute to the conference – we should provide face-to-face support to help victims prepare for a conference
  2. victims are consulted about where and when the conference is held and their views are taken into account
  3. victims are supported to have their say about how te tamaiti will be held accountable and what needs to be done to put things right
  4. victims are assisted to consider what aspects of the conference may be difficult and how they will deal with this and what supports can be put in place to assist them with this
  5. there is an effective means for presenting the views of those victims unable to attend the conference, or who choose not to attend.

This standard aligns with the practice standard:

See and engage whānau, wider family, caregivers and when appropriate victims of offending by tamariki

Practice standard 7: Empowered whānau or family

Empowerment refers to the capacity of individuals, groups and communities to gain control of their circumstances and achieve their own goals. This means they are able to work towards helping themselves and others to maximise the quality of their lives.

The whānau or family we work with must be supported to be able to make good decisions about their tamariki and rangatahi. Whānau or family need to realise that they have the mana to put forward solutions and engage in healing. They also have responsibilities and roles to play in creating oranga for te tamaiti or rangatahi.

Elements of practice standard 7

The coordinator must ensure:

  1. whānau or family are aware of the purpose and principles of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, and specifically the principles of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga
  2. whānau or family are aware of the importance of them participating in decisions affecting te tamaiti or rangatahi
  3. whānau or family are encouraged to think about what they would like to happen for te tamaiti or rangatahi and what they would like to achieve from the conference
  4. whānau or family are provided with written information about the functions of the family group conference, so they can refer back to this as required
  5. whānau or family are provided with the information from professionals and other support people to enable high-quality decision-making
  6. whānau or family are aware they have the right to family time at the conference to consider all information and develop a proposed plan for the safety and wellbeing of te tamaiti or rangatahi, which also addresses accountability of te tamaiti or rangatahi for any offending behaviour and the interests of any victim.

This standard aligns with the practice standard:

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

Practice standard 8: Effective facilitation

The coordinator must carefully consider the set-up, tone and atmosphere of the conference, to create an environment that:

  • fosters genuine and positive discussion of the concerns regarding te tamaiti or rangatahi, and
  • promotes the very best achievable outcomes and solutions that address the concerns.

During the course of the conference, they facilitate the proceeding to ensure a focus on all the matters that need to be considered.

Elements of practice standard 8

The coordinator must:

  1. establish a safe and interactive environment where all participants can contribute, are involved, are able to voice their opinions freely and are listened to
  2. encourage participants to consider ways in which te tamaiti or rangatahi can be supported and their needs addressed considering the care and protection concerns and any need for assistance
  3. where te tamaiti or rangatahi is at the conference because of their offending, ensure that participants are encouraged to consider:
    • the wellbeing and best interests of te tamaiti or rangatahi, and
    • the public interest (which includes public safety), and
    • the rights and interests of any victim, and
    • the accountability of te tamaiti or rangatahi for their behaviour, and
    • where applicable, restorative justice actions
  4. check that everyone leaves the conference with a clear understanding of the plan, their roles and responsibilities and the timeframes for actions to occur.

This standard aligns with the practice standards:

Ensure safety and wellbeing

See and engage whānau, wider family, caregivers and when appropriate victims of offending by tamariki

Whakamana te tamaiti: Practice empowering tamariki Māori

Practice standard 9: Active plans

A great majority of family group conferences end with an agreement and a plan. If the plan is to have a good chance of success, it needs the commitment of everyone involved behind it.

Elements of practice standard 9

  1. The plan must specify that the concerns were considered alongside addressing the needs of te tamaiti or rangatahi.
  2. The outcomes that the plan is trying to achieve must be clearly specified. Outcomes should include the longer-term wellbeing outcomes of te tamaiti or rangatahi, as well as safety and immediate needs and any assistance needed.
  3. The plan should precisely state the tasks, responsibilities and timeframes agreed to in order to get to those outcomes, including the practical support or assistance needed for the tasks.
  4. Where these have been agreed, the plan must identify restorative justice actions.
  5. Plans must have tasks that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time framed.
  6. Accountability and responsibility for offending and the interests of victims must be clearly addressed in an achievable way in the plan, and understood by te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family.
  7. The plan must be written in a language and format that te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family can understand. The plan must detail what is to happen if things go off track.
  8. The coordinator must check that all participants not only agree but also support the plan.

This standard aligns with the practice standard:

Create, implement and review a written assessment and plan

Practice standard 10: Active implementation and review

The plan agreed at a family group conference sets out outcomes and the expected actions to address any concerns or the need for assistance. The outcomes described in the plan can only be achieved when that plan is actively implemented, monitored and supported to completion.

Usually, the social worker is responsible for ensuring implementation of the plan, although the conference may place responsibility with another party. Ongoing reference to the plan enables the social worker to review progress and follow up when that is needed.

There are prescribed timeframes for review of family group conference plans, depending on the age of te tamaiti or rangatahi. The plan should be reviewed sooner if circumstances change or the plan is off track and outcomes can be compromised.

Elements of practice standard 10

  1. The person responsible for implementing the plan must consciously take steps to ensure that the actions required by the plan are taken and progress made. This includes following up with other parties who have actions required by the plan.
  2. They must ensure that outcomes are achieved in a timely manner. Regular progress checks are required, and progress must be recorded, with successes acknowledged. Active steps must be taken to keep plans on track. 
  3. The family group conference must be reconvened if the plan is significantly off track and outcomes can be compromised.
  4. Hui ā-whānau prior to the reconvened conference should be considered, to share assessment information with te tamaiti or rangatahi and their whānau or family. Where this is not practicable, the reasons should be recorded.
  5. The family group conference plan must be reviewed within the required timeframe.

This standard aligns with the practice standards:

Ensure safety and wellbeing

Create, implement and review a written assessment and plan