Updated: 01 April 2017
Youth justice family group conferences are about holding children and young people to account for their offending and encouraging them to accept responsibility for their behaviour. It is also about acknowledging and addressing their needs and allowing them the opportunity to develop in responsible, beneficial, and socially acceptable ways.
The family group conference’s significant features emphasise family/whānau participation, consensus decision-making and responding to cultural diversity. The process also has a focus on victims and diversion from prosecution.
Supporting and informing family group conferences should strengthen families/whānau and foster their abilities to develop their own means of dealing with offending by their children and young people thus reducing the likelihood of their re-offending.
This policy outlines key responsibilities when holding a youth justice family group conference that is unique to the child or young person and their circumstances.
Youth justice family group conferences (FGC) have specific legal functions depending on what section of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (the Act) under which they have been convened. S249 gives the statutory convening and holding times for all youth justice FGCs.
If the child admits the offence, the FGC then considers if the child is in need of care and/or protection under s14(1)(e) in relation to the offending. If that is also agreed, the FGC can then make decisions, recommendations and plans to address the accountability for the offending and the care and protection concerns.
Note: for children who offend, sections 5, 6, and 13 of the Act apply but not s208. However, s13(i) requires that the principle under s208(g) is included in relation to any victims of the child’s offending.
The FGC considers whether the young person will be prosecuted for their offence(s) in the Youth Court. If the agreement is not to lay charges, the FGC can then make a plan which addresses the offending and the needs of the young person. The consequence for not successfully completing the plan is that the Police will still have recourse to the Youth Court.
Section 258(ba) is a special provision for FGCs held for 12-13 year olds alleged to have committed serious offences as described in s272.
If the FGC is convened under s247(b) then it considers whether the public interest requires that criminal proceedings should be instituted.
When the FGC is convened under s247(d) and criminal proceeds have been commenced then it considers whether they should be continued or withdrawn from the Court.
Both conferences also consider whether the child is in need of care or protection on the ground in s14(1)(e), and if so whether Family Court proceedings would be more appropriate or whether the matter should be dealt with in some other way.
It is important that the FGC understands that there are alternative options to commencing proceedings in the Youth Court.
The youth justice co-ordinator should suggest to the family that they consider engaging the services of a lawyer to represent their 12 or 13 year old if a youth advocate has not already been appointed as the offending must still meet the criteria under s272(1) (b) and (c) before a referral can be made.
The youth justice co-ordinator must be confident that the alleged offences are of such a significant nature that they cannot be dealt with by a referral under s18(3).
S247(c) - If a young person denies the charges for which he/she was brought before the Youth Court and he/she is held in the custody of the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki or the Police, an FGC is held to make a recommendation to the Youth Court on the continued custody of the young person or to provide viable alternative options to that custody
S247(d) - Where a young person is brought before the Youth Court and the charges are not denied, an FGC is held to consider whether the young person’s offence(s) can be dealt with either by the Court or in some other way, and make recommendations accordingly. The FGC looks at ways of diverting the young person from formal Court orders and includes the consideration of any care and protection issues if necessary.
S247(e) - After a defended hearing in which the young person has admitted or had the charges proven against him/her, a FGC is held to consider how the young person is dealt with for the offence(s) and recommend accordingly to the Court.
In providing information to the FGC the youth justice co-ordinator will ensure that:
Prior to the conference:
At the conference:
The youth justice co-ordinator is responsible for ensuring that:
The child or young person must be given support to express their views if assistance is required.
Consideration should also be given to whether the child or young person should have access to legal advice early in the FGC process if a youth advocate has not been appointed. This would be appropriate where the charges are serious or the Police intend to instigate Court proceedings.
Careful preparation contributes to the success of the FGC.
The choice of venue, refreshments and seating arrangements, and ensuring the conference is fully resourced are all important.
Risks must be identified and managed.
Arranging for the child or young person and their family/whānau members to arrive before or after the victims and greeting victims separately can help to ease anxieties. It is also important that the victims are not left alone with the child or young person and their family/whānau at any time.
It may be necessary to enlist assistance from the Police or a private security company if there are any safety concerns for participants. If the safety of any individual appears to be at risk before or during the conference, consideration should be given to adjourning the conference until such risks can be mitigated and/or managed.
The start of the family group conference will set the tone of the meeting. When the youth justice co-ordinator opens the FGC, they:
It may be helpful to develop your own "cue" card to ensure these things are covered.
The FGC is an intense environment and emotions may run high. Pay particular attention to the emotional wellbeing of the child or young person and the victim/s.
It may be helpful to agree on ‘time out’ signals or requests during convening or at the beginning of the FGC.
The FGC needs to know what the child or young person is alleged to have done and whether they admit to having done it - this is a requirement under the Act (s247 & s259).
The Summary of Facts (a report from the Police detailing the circumstances of the alleged offences(s)) will be read and the child or young person asked to formally admit or deny the offences. Make sure everyone understand what the charges mean. Legal/judicial language is not always easy to understand so think of ways of explaining them in every-day language.
For an FGC held under s247(a), the child must admit the offending. The grounds for care and protection under 14(1)(e) must be agreed before the conference can make decisions recommendations and plans for the child.
The child or young person admits the offence
The FGC proceeds
The child or young person does not admit the offence
No decisions, recommendations or plans can be made that assume the child or young person committed the offence and the youth justice co-ordinator reports the matter to the referring agency. The referring agency then decides on the appropriate action and acts accordingly
The FGC cannot ascertain whether the offence was committed
The youth justice co-ordinator must record that the offence was not admitted and report the matter to the referring agency. The referring agency then decides on appropriate action and acts accordingly
The FGC was convened under s247(c) (Custody following denial)
The FGC addresses custody issues only. Admission of the offence is not required
The FGC was convened under 247(e) (Charge proved at Court)
As the offence has been proven before the Youth Court, the FGC is not required to ascertain whether the young person admits the offence but proceeds to formulate recommendations, decision and plans
There may be conferences where the child admits the offending but the conference does not agree that the child is in need of care or protection under s14(1)(e).
This creates a non-agreement and no plan can be progressed as an FGC outcome. Possible ways of dealing with this are:
Note: if there is no admission to the offending, it is not appropriate to make decisions that assume the offending occurred.
Care and protection concerns under s14(1) for children who offend (other than s14(1)(e)), and young persons can be considered under s261 if the conference has received information and advice about those concerns.
Any plan that is agreed by a youth justice FGC that uses s261 to address care and/or protection needs to be clear as to which parts of the plan relate to the youth justice matters and which parts relate to the agreed care and protection needs.
Ideally the plan should be written in two distinct parts – clearly labelled “Youth Justice” and clearly labelled “Care and Protection” with independent timeframes for each part; at times some timeframes will cross over between the two.
Note: As entitled persons, victims cannot be excluded from discussions about care and protection matters or any other parts of the conference, other than family time.
Plans made under s261 must meet the requirements under s29A for the content of plans in s130 and the review dates and timeframes.
Young people (aged between 15 and 17) with youth justice matters can come into care on a s140(1)(d) extended care agreement, if there is a need to make arrangements for the care of the young person.
The young person must be encouraged and assisted to participate in the convening and proceedings of the FGC and given support to freely express their views. Their views must be taken into account.
If an attendance sheet is used to record names and addresses of those attending, it is important to avoid the victim’s details being shown to the family. Have them complete the sheet last or take the victims’ details separately.
Some attendees, especially victims may not wish to have their full names used at the conference or recorded in the plan and may not wish to have their private addresses used as identifiers for offences. It is important to check about the level of identification with which attendees are comfortable.
Non-attending persons (including victims) should only be listed on the plan if they have given an apology prior to the conference being held. It is not appropriate to list those persons who have been consulted and invited but then choose not to attend without further contact with the youth justice co-ordinator. They are not participants in the family group conference and have not given permission for their details to be included in the family group conference record – they may have good reasons for not wishing to be listed and there may be issues around privacy if they are. This also applies to those persons who are required to be consulted under s250 and are known to the youth justice co-ordinator but were unable to be contacted prior to the conference.
The child or young person, their family and victims are to be encouraged to contribute to the FGC deliberations and decision making. The youth justice co-ordinator will offer the child or young person's family the opportunity to have private deliberation on their own at the conference.
Children and young people must be encouraged and assisted to participate in decision making in a manner that is appropriate to their age, maturity and culture. They must be given reasonable opportunities to freely express their views and their views must be taken into account.
If the child or young person requires assistance to express their views or be understood, support must be provided to assist them to do so.
There may be instances where the participation of the child or young person would be inappropriate, S11(2)(a) allows for the coordinator not to provide that encouragement and assistance to the child or young person in those circumstances. However, s11(2)(a) does not allow the child or young person to be excluded from attending the conference.
Before making a plan, FGC participants need the chance to say how they feel, what they think and how the child or young person’s offending has affected their lives.
Although this is particularly true of the family/whānau and the victims, the child or young person may also want to express their views and must be given reasonable opportunities and support to do so.
You will need to convey the views of people unable to attend the conference in a way that is meaningful for them (s254) and that the conference can understand and take into consideration in their discussions.
There may need to be some pre-planned strategies for managing this part of the conference, as strong feelings may cause discomfort, or provoke outbursts from other participants.
If there is potential for the child or young person to be placed outside their usual home the youth justice co-ordinator will ensure that the conference is informed about the Oranga Tamariki caregiver approval process prior to family/whānau time. This can be found in the Caregiver Assessment and Approval Policy. The caregiver approval information can be provided before the FGC is held and an assessment can be completed pre-conference if there is a likelihood that a placement will occur.
A social worker should always be appointed when an out–of-home placement is planned or anticipated.
If the child or young person is to remain or be placed in an out-of-home placement as part of an FGC outcome, the youth justice coordinator must carefully consider whether he or she can agree to that placement if a caregiver assessment cannot or will not be carried out. This includes when a child or young person has been bailed to an out-of-home placement prior to the FGC being held and it is agreed to continue the placement.
In order to develop achievable and meaningful plans that address the underlying causes of offending, the conference needs to be well informed. All necessary reports (e.g. Tuituia, psychological, health, education, vocational) will need to be available on the day.
Report writers or other professionals can be invited to attend as information givers and speak at the FGC. The conference should decide whether professionals and information givers remain in the conference for the whole time or come in just to present their information. They may remain outside in case of questions.
If a social worker was appointed during convening, s/he attends the FGC as an information giver. The social worker becomes an entitled member of the conference under s251(h) Oranga Tamariki Act.
Where absolutely necessary the family group conference can be adjourned to gather further information.
If a family/whānau member or other significant adult has been identified as a possible mentor, the FGC considers what training and support might be needed for that person to fully take on the responsibility.
The family group conference must consider:
The youth justice co-ordinator must indicate in the plan that there has been consideration given to attendance on the programmes specified in s259A, irrespective of whether a decision is made to proceed with a programme.
Where a supervision with residence order is being considered for a young person, all community based options, including supervision with activity, must be put to the family group conference for consideration.
Addressing reparation in the family group conference can be an important part of 'putting things right' for the victim.
The youth justice co-ordinator must ensure that the issue is raised and discussed at family group conference and, wherever possible, processes are set in place to meet the victim's expectations.
When discussing options for collecting reparation, the youth justice co-ordinator should ensure that the family group conference participants are aware of the Youth Justice Reparation Accord (PDF 160 KB).
Set up the family/whānau comfortably for their family/whānau time and consider the need for privacy and for resources like paper, pens and pads to work with.
Let them know they will need someone to record their ideas for the plan.
Encourage the child or young person to express their views in family/whānau time. You may need to speak to them about how they might express their views and ensure that they have the support that they need to do so.
It can help to identify a family/whānau member who can take a lead in the discussions.
Other members of the conference are not able to attend family/whānau time unless invited to do so by the family/whānau (s251(4)). The family/whānau may ask someone known to them to support them during family/whānau time with developing a plan.
Make sure that the family/whānau considers the following factors:
The plan will be family/whānau led – this is their opportunity to share and develop their ideas to help their child or young person ‘right the wrong’ and take responsibility for their behaviour.
The child or young person must be encouraged and assisted to participate in the plan and given support to freely express their views. Their views must be taken into account.
It will address the offences in a way that is proportionate to the offending and reduces the likelihood of re-offending. This can be seen in plans that hold the child or young person responsible for their offending, addresses their needs and gives them the opportunity to develop in responsible, healthy and socially acceptable ways.
It is important to establish if the child or young person has a significant adult to support them in carrying out their plan and preferably into the future. Is there someone within the family/whānau? If so, how can they be encouraged and supported to become that important person for the child or young person?
If the family group conference is unable to identify someone from within the family/whānau, other possibilities can be explored such as family friends, sports coaches and mentoring programmes.
Make sure that the child or young person fully understands and genuinely agrees with the plan - this is critical for successful plan completion. It can be particularly useful to get them to explain their plan to the conference after family time – this is another way of ensuring that the young person has had some input and is able to understand his/her responsibilities in the plan.
Encourage children and young people to signal what help/support they need to complete their plan. If the matter is before the Youth Court, the FGC could agree for the young person to explain the plan to the Judge.
When agreement is reached at the FGC, participants will need to be informed of the requirement to seek further agreement from the persons listed in s263.
This means that some entitled members at the conference effectively get a second opportunity to agree or not agree. The legislation has been drafted in this way as a safeguard- it provides an opportunity to reflect away from the FGC.
This is to ensure that people and organisations affected by the plan agree to their part in the outcome (e.g. getting agreement from a school or employer about a course or job or from a marae or church to arrange community work). This should be specified, along with a time frame for receiving agreement and the consequences of non-agreement.
For a Court directed FGC, it is important to remind the participants that the outcome will be presented to the Youth Court for consideration and that the judge may or may not accept some or all of the recommendations made in the plan.
The youth justice co-ordinator is an entitled member of the FGC and may disagree with the plan if they have serious concerns that the proposed plan is inconsistent with the objects and principles of the Act or that the plan is unachievable.
If clearly identified risks or needs are not addressed during the FGC, it is important that the co-ordinator considers very carefully whether they can agree to a plan that does not respond to these concerns. If, after further discussion agreement still cannot be reached, the conference is adjourned.
Sometimes the participants cannot agree on the plan, despite the best efforts of the co-ordinator to mediate the process. When this occurs the outcome is recorded as a non-agreement and the matter is referred back to the enforcement agency (usually the Police) or to the Youth Court as appropriate (s264).
Where the family group conference is unable to obtain agreement to all the decisions, recommendations and plans proposed, the youth justice co-ordinator completes an FGC record simply stating that the FGC was not able to reach an agreement. The record must not state that one or more entitled persons disagreed with the decisions nor identify those people
Where the FGC is able to reach agreement on some aspects of the decisions, recommendations, and plans, those agreed aspects may be recorded. However, the recording must not identify the differing views held by individuals on areas of disagreement.
The youth justice co-ordinator is responsible for writing up the plan (s262) reflecting the SMART principles of being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-frames.
See Planning and Reviewing for more information about formulating SMART plans.
A good plan details the decisions made, the tasks to be completed, the monitoring of the tasks, the duration, and review of the plan, and the support to help the child or young person carry out the tasks.
The plan can also make provision for any care and protection concerns identified by the family group conference (s261). However it must be clear which parts of the plan relate to the youth justice matters and which to the agreed care and protection concerns. Ideally the plan should be written in two distinct parts – clearly labelled "Youth Justice" and "Care and Protection" with independent timeframes for each part. At times some timeframes will cross over between the two.
Plans made under s261 must meet the requirements under s29A with regard to the content of plans in s130.
The conference decides the details of the monitoring, which includes:
Plans can be monitored and supported by family/whānau, community groups and service providers or others as specified by the conference. Alternatively the plan can be monitored by the youth justice co-ordinator or a youth justice social worker.
It is important that the conference thinks carefully about and agrees on who will monitor the plan. This may involve more than one person. One person could be overseeing the whole plan to its completion with others monitoring individual tasks in the plan and reporting back to the key person
The relationship between the child or young person and the person(s) responsible for monitoring must be strong as it will support and encourage the child or young person to progress through their plan and meet their objectives.
Often, monitoring will be undertaken by someone known to the child or young person (e.g. a family/whānau member, programme provider or mentor) and a current positive relationship is more likely to encourage a child or young person to engage in the plan.
When it is someone unknown to the child or young person, it is important to establish rapport and trust with the child or young person to successfully complete the plan.
The youth justice co-ordinator must be confident that the conference understands what is involved in monitoring and that the people who will monitor have the ability and integrity to undertake the task. The youth justice co-ordinator ensures there is a feedback process so that any issues arising from the plan can be quickly recognised and managed.
Each task or action is set out to clearly state what is to be done, who is to do it, what the timeframes are and who has responsibility for monitoring it. It may be appropriate to include a simple schedule, either in or with the family group conference plan. It may be useful to create a simplified version of the plan for the child or young person to ensure they know what is expected of them – e.g. use pictures and/or short simple sentences in a larger font.
Tasks resulting from an FGC that has considered both intention to charge offences and offences laid in the Youth Court are not to be recorded as one record and plan.
A separate record and plan must be recorded for each family group conference direction as the Judge is not entitled to consider decisions, recommendations and plans from an FGC that has considered an offence not laid in the Court.
When a 12 or 13 year old is referred by the police for an intention to charge FGC, the youth justice co-ordinator should discuss with the family how they might access legal advice. This is important as the alleged offences must have a maximum penalty of or including life imprisonment or for at least 14 years (s272(1)(b)) or the 12 or 13 year old must be a previous offender as defined under s272(1)(c). Special consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate to deal with such high tariff offending without the child and family having received legal advice.
If it becomes apparent, in the convening or holding of a s247(b) intention to charge FGC, that the Police intend to pursue the matter by laying a charge in the Youth Court there are a number of options available to the FGC and it is important that the family/whānau be encouraged to seek legal advice.
It is the role of the youth justice co-ordinator to make the FGC aware of those options. These include:
Reviewing the FGC plan is an important part of following up to help ensure that there is satisfactory progress. Agreement can be made at the conference about how and when a review will be completed.
Review does not need to be by way of a reconvened conference - with the exception of a plan that has been agreed using s261 to address care and/or protection needs.
When s261 has been used and a plan agreed to address care and/or protection needs then the conference is legally required to set a review date. The youth justice coordinator must advise the conference that a review date is required in this instance.
When a date has been set to review a plan made using s261, that review by reconvened conference will not be required if:
A social worker may require a youth justice co-ordinator to reconvene a FGC to review a plan made using s261 when:
A conference may also be required to reconvene for the purpose of review where the decision/recommendation/plan was made under s261 if an iwi social service, cultural social service or child and family support service is directly involved in the implementation of the plan and agreed to it under s30. That service may also require the co-ordinator to reconvene the conference for the purpose of a review.
In Youth Justice the review types include:
Where the conference agrees to reconvene, the date and method of review will be noted in the FGC written record.
It is the youth justice co-ordinator's responsibility to ensure the review is completed on time.
Let the participants know what the process for distribution of the plan is.
Remind them how monitoring and reviewing will occur and explain the options for re-convening the FGC.
If a social worker is to be appointed after the FGC, inform the family what the social worker’s role is and when to expect contact from them. If possible introduce the social worker either at the conference or immediately afterwards.
Close the FGC in a manner that was agreed to by the family and acknowledge the contribution of all of the parties.
Consider the safety and well-being of the participants and try to best ensure that they are physically and emotionally safe when they leave the conference. If strong emotions have been expressed and remain unresolved you might need to discuss safety before and as people are leaving. You may be able to anticipate and plan for this possibility before the conference.
The co-ordinator will ensure that the plan is distributed no later than 5 working days after the family group conference.
Getting a written copy of the plan out to those entitled to receive it as quickly as possible will ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them and others.
The following people are entitled to receive a copy of the plan (s265):
It is important to pay particular attention to s265(g) as this section allows for those persons who are directly affected by decisions to receive a copy of the plan. These people may not be entitled members of, or have been present at the conference.
A person, who attends or may be entitled to attend a family group conference, may not necessarily be entitled to receive a copy of the plan. For example:
A Certificate of Holding is not normally required for a youth justice FGC unless:
In these instances a Certificate of Holding is filed in the Family Court. If a s67 application is not made, a Certificate of Holding is not required.