Righting the wrong: Information on working with victims
What's Important To Us
Members of the community may unexpectedly and unhappily become victims of offending by children and young people, and the family group conference provides the opportunity to put things right for them. While victims have an important role in youth justice family group conference, they are also ordinary, everyday people, who may feel wronged and by no fault of their own. The victim may have strong feelings about what has happened to them although experience has shown that they can also be very forgiving and generous. They also have vulnerabilities and rights which mean that Oranga Tamariki need to have a strong focus on victims' interests and support them through the family group conference process.
The most important reason for having a victim participate in the family group conference process is so that they can have their input into how the child or young person is held accountable for their offending. Children and young people who have offended may not see their victims as 'real' people. Having the victim attend and take an active role in the family group conference can offer a real challenge to the child or young person's view.
Engaging with the victim
The first contact is usually by letter which will include general information on the victim's rights; however consultation is only achieved with a telephone call or a face to face visit with the victim. It is important that youth justice co-ordinators follow up the letters by this type of contact.
The youth justice co-ordinator will be the first person from Oranga Tamariki to make contact with the victim and will continue that contact throughout the family group conference process. Engaging with the victim and developing a positive relationship with them is integral to ensuring their participation in the family group conference process.
The police, and often Victim Support, will have already have been in touch with the victim at the time that the offence was committed. Talking to both these agencies before you contact the victim can provide useful information about how they feel about the offending and about the child or young person. It can also provide information about how they are coping and how the offending has affected them. The police or Victim Support may also be able to advise you on any particular needs of the victim. This information will assist your first meeting with them.
The first contact with a victim should always be by letter or telephone. Victims may not be prepared to discuss the offending face to face without the opportunity to have discussed it beforehand and to get information in a non-intrusive way. Some victims will have been traumatised by the effect of the offending and may be feeling very vulnerable or angry. Be prepared to listen to their story without interruption, allowing them to tell it “their way” and giving them time to talk about how it has affected them. Showing respect and empathy for what may have been a distressing experience helps to build understanding and trust.
Many victims feel that they have lost control over their lives since their experience. The youth justice co-ordinator can assist in restoring their confidence by allowing them to ‘lead’ the consultation, e.g. suggesting that they nominate the time and place to meet. Arranging a meeting with them as soon as possible will help in providing a sense of progress and movement towards closure or resolution. Victims often have a need to 'tell the story' repeatedly to help them make sense of a shocking and unexpected event in their life. It is important to them that you hear and understand the full extent of their distress and bewilderment.
Your knowledge of support agencies in the local area will be useful. When you have heard their story, use your professional judgement about suggesting a referral to a support agency. However, the youth justice co-ordinator is the person who will walk alongside them through the entire family group conference process and it is important to remember that they may be dependent on your support and availability.
For many people family group conferences are unfamiliar territory and may be a completely new and possibly unwelcome idea to them. Explaining the philosophy and the process will help them better understand the family group conference and their important role in it. Discuss what possible outcomes there may be from the conference and explore their expectations.
The victim's anxiety about attending the conference and what to expect may be high. Help reduce this by listening to their concerns and explaining to them who will be attending the family group conference and what to expect when meeting the child or young person and their family/whānau. Many will have questions about their safety, the attitude of the child or young person and the child or young person's family/whānau and circumstances. They may be angry and have a punitive attitude towards the child or young person or their family/whānau. Take time explaining again the philosophy and intent of the family group conference process and ensuring they understand that their involvement is voluntary.
Talk to the victim about the time, date and venue for the conference and do your best to take their wishes into consideration when convening the conference (s250). This will confirm to the victim that they have an active role in the proceedings. If you cannot hold the conference in accordance with their preferences, be sure to explain why and try and find a compromise.
Try to ascertain the victim’s wishes on when and where they would like to the conference to be held and relay this information to the family/whānau early in the convening process. Encourage the family/whānau to be mindful of the victim’s wishes in this regard and emphasise to them the important role of the victim in the family group conference process.
If victims are reluctant to attend because of safety concerns, take their concerns seriously and explore them thoroughly. Make every effort to reassure them of safety and support at the conference and explain how this will be accomplished. You need to be sure that they will be safe at the conference and in some cases you may have to organise extra security precautions, such as having a security guard present or alerting the Police.
If the victim's property has been lost or damaged, or they have incurred other costs as a result of the offending, they may want to talk about reparation and how that might work. Discuss with them how the costs might be repaid; they may be willing to consider work for themselves or others from the offender in lieu of payment. Consider whether the Youth Justice Reparation Accord would be an appropriate way to collect the reparation and explore this with the victim, the child or young person and their family/whānau. The accord can be used to securely collect small weekly amounts which are often more affordable for the child or young person and their family/whānau.
The victim might also need some ideas or support to be able to say how the offending has impacted on their life and the life of their family/whānau. Encourage them to think about what they want to say before the conference and suggest that they write down the key points to bring along. Let them know that they can bring a person or people to support them but be sure to explain their role in relation to the family group conference. A support person can convey the victim’s thoughts and wishes to the conference if the victim feels unable to do so, although the support person may not give his or her own opinion.
Advise the victims that they are entitled to have another person represent them at the family group conference if they don't want to or can't come themselves. Be sure to explain that a representative can participate fully in the conference on their behalf, including agreeing or not agreeing to the plan.
If victims cannot attend, discuss with them the best way of having their voice heard at the conference. This may take the form of a representative or participation by tele-conference or video-conference. The victim may prefer to supply a written or verbal submission for you to present at the family group conference on their behalf. If the victim provides a submission, check with them how they want to be identified at the conference.
Victim attendance and personal participation will always be the prime objective and youth justice co-ordinators will make every effort to persuade the victim that their attendance at the family group conference is the most valuable and effective contribution they can make. Submissions are only requested after all avenues to persuade the victim to attend have been exhausted.
Explore and clarify with them any assistance they may need to attend the family group conference; for example: do they need financial assistance or an interpreter, or a letter from Oranga Tamariki for their employer to assist in getting time off work to attend? Oranga Tamariki is able to meet reasonable costs to assist victims to attend the conference. Funding for supporting victims in this way is available at site level and should be negotiated with the youth justice manager. Using petrol and grocery vouchers as koha to support travel and loss of wages is often the best method. If the victim requires childcare or overnight accommodation, arrangements can be made directly with local providers in your area.
Section 269A requires us to find out from the victim if and how they wish to be kept informed of the child or young person’s progress on their family group conference plan. The victim may not be certain about this until at or after the family group conference, however it is useful to start discussing this requirement during convening.
If the victim is the respondent of a protection order they are permitted to have contact with the applicant if they are attending a family group conference. There is an exemption for contact during a family group conference under s19(2)(e)(iv) of the Domestic Violence Act 1995. It is important that this is discussed with the victim beforehand and that other affected participants at the family group conference are advised.
For more information, visit the Victim Information website.
At the conference
Each family group conference will be different due to the circumstances of the offending and the people involved. Family group conferences can regulate their own procedure (s256) and it is important that the victim understands their role in the proceedings.
If you use an attendance sheet to record names and addresses of those attending, avoid the victim’s details being shown to the family/whānau. Have them complete the sheet last or take the victim's details separately.
Every effort is made to make the victim feel at ease and able to contribute confidently during the conference. This can be achieved in part by good preparation and the following points are addressed by discussion with the victim prior to the holding of the conference
- If the victim does not want to meet or mingle with the child or young person and their family/whānau members on arrival at the family group conference venue, arrange for them to arrive earlier or later and put them into a private room. In all cases be available to meet them when they arrive.
- Some 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 with victims about the level of identification with which they are comfortable.
- Be aware of seating arrangements at the family group conference. Some victims may feel uncomfortable if they are seated near or directly opposite the child or young person and their family/whānau members. They may prefer to sit near you or the attending police officer.
- It may be useful to organise a seating plan prior to the conference.
Encourage and support the victim to state their views and expectations at the conference. Make sure that they are allowed to speak freely and without interruption. Be aware of how the proceedings of the conference are affecting all participants and especially the victim who may be feeling “outnumbered’ and under pressure to agree to a plan which they feel does not address their wishes or needs, and act accordingly. This may involve taking a break in the proceedings.
Care and protection concerns for all child who offend will be discussed and considered in the family group conference. As entitled persons, victims cannot be excluded from this or any part of the conference. This also applies when a family group conference for a young person considers care and protection matters under s261.
Do not under any circumstances leave the victim alone with the child or young person and/or their family/whānau unless the victim has indicated that this is appropriate. If you have to leave the conference, ensure that the police officer remains in the room. If this is not possible, you may need to move the victims into a separate room.
After the conference
After the conference has ended, escort the participants from the room, having already established with the victim if they are comfortable to leave at the same time as the family/whānau. Remember that once outside the building there may be further and unwanted interaction between the victim and the child or young person and their family/whānau. It is important to be aware of these possibilities and, as much as possible, manage their impact.
Check that you have confirmed with the victim how they wish to be identified in the plan. There is no requirement to use their full names and in some instances “Victim A” may be appropriate. Be careful of using full residential addresses when recording offences as the victim may not want that information published.
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.
You will have established with the victim if they wish to be informed of the child or young person’s progress on their plan and, if so how this is to be done (s269A). These details can be recorded on the family group conference plan if the victim agrees. Otherwise they are recorded in a casenote under the family group conference record and those responsible for reporting to the victim are made aware of what is to be done and when.
When the victim is a family/whānau member
It can be especially difficult for victims when they are also a family/whānau member. These situations need to be carefully managed. It is important that the victim is able to express themselves as a victim of the offending and have their needs met. Being a family/whānau member does not negate the trauma and they need encouragement and support to be able to take a full and active part in the conference both as victim and family/whānau member.
When the victim is a child or young person
Sometimes the victim is a child or young person and this can present unique challenges. A child or young person may not easily be able to say how they feel about what has happened to them. It may not be appropriate for them to be exposed to the child or young person who has offended. In some cases the child or young person who has offended may be a sibling or member of their wider family/whānau.
Where a young child is involved or if you are unsure of the circumstances, contact the parents or caregivers of the child or young person in the first instance.
Most children or young people who are victims will be in the guardianship of their parents. As victims, children and young people legally have the right to attend the family group conference. However, their parent or guardian may not agree to their participating. Always talk with the parent or guardian first to work out the best thing to do. If the parents are unhappy about the child or young person attending the family group conference, then they may be prepared to attend on their child or young person's behalf as their representative or to provide a submission.
Whether the parents and/or the child or young person attend the conference, make sure that the views of the victim are made known to the family group conference. Using a letter, a voice recording or a picture from the child or young person can all help the family group conference understand their views. If the child or young person victim attends the conference make sure that they feel, and are, safe and protected. Their parents or caregivers can also be there to support them.
When the victim is the community, business, or a corporate body
Sometimes a community or a corporate body will be the victim of the offending by the child or young person, for example tagging or wilful damage to a building. Representatives from the community or businesses are entitled to attend the conference as victims. Find and talk to the appropriate person in these organisations to determine who might attend the conference as a representative.
Many businesses, like large department stores who are affected by frequent thefts or shoplifting, will often decline to attend a family group conference but it is important to keep encouraging them to send someone along as a representative. Ensuring that reparation is paid in these instances helps to reinforce the value of the family group conference and may result in these companies deciding to participate more fully.
When an insurance company pays out on a claim following an offence
When a victim of an offence is insured and has made a claim for loss or damages, a representative of their insurance company is entitled to attend the conference as a victim, when the insurance company has paid out to the victim, or has admitted its liability to do so.
If a representative of an insurance company attends a conference, remind them that the conference is a confidential and privileged proceeding and as such can not be used by the insurance company to ascertain facts necessary to decide liability. However, we have the same obligations towards the insurance company as we do towards other victims.
In addition to the requirements under s269A, victims will also be advised of the final outcome once the review has been completed. A letter to the victim (or by another means if agreed with the victim) will be sent stating that the plan has been completed as agreed or not. If the plan or parts of it have not been completed then the letter needs to explain what has been put in place to resolve the matter and the victim’s role in that resolution – this may mean reconvening the conference which the victim will be entitled to attend or a referral to the Youth Court etc.