Youth justice family group conferences: Completion and presentation of decisions, recommendations and plans
What's Important To Us
Family group conference plans should be individualised to each child or young person and address both their offending behaviour and their identified needs. The creation of each plan is the responsibility of the youth justice coordinator and is based on informed family decision making.
The family group conference is a legal entity and the record of decisions from each family group conference is a legal document. As such it needs to be presented in a consistent and professional format. The family group conference plan template and these guidelines have been developed with input from staff members within Oranga Tamariki including the legal team.
It is important to maintain the confidentiality of the family group conference and there is detailed information and direction on what is acceptable for inclusion in the plan and how to present non- and partial agreements.
Each family group conference is unique and therefore every plan will be different from the next in reflecting the exceptional circumstances of the child or young person. However there are certain things that a family group conference must address and these are discussed below.
Each family group conference plan is unique to that child or young person and therefore cannot be written to a prescribed formula, although there are areas that every family group conference must address – the accountability for the offence (includes apology, reparation and consequences) and rehabilitation (includes addressing the causes of the offending such as considering living arrangements, family support, education/employment, health issues, and other identified needs and agreements around non-association, bail conditions etc).
For children who offend, it is important to establish and record that the child admits the offences and that the grounds for the referral under s14(1)(e) are met. The conference will address the care and protection concerns for the child in the plan, as well as accountability for offending. The conference cannot make any decisions, recommendations and plans in relation to the child unless the child admits the offences and the conference agrees the child is in need of care and/or protection under s14(1)(e).
Plans must clearly show that the needs of the victim have been considered and, where possible, addressed.
Plans must be written in plain English. Some of the children, young people and their families may have had limited educational opportunities or English may not be their first language. Avoid complex words and long sentences and do a spelling and grammar check. Use the term “family group conference” instead of “conference” as this reinforces the family’s central role.
Where particular difficulties around language or disability are encountered, it is important to consider how the plan can be properly communicated and to explore alternative ways of making this happen – this could include translation into a family/whānau or victim’s first language.
It must be clear to anyone who reads the family group conference plan what was decided by the conference. Headings which may be numbered are a good way of recording decisions and can assist in easily identifying them. Youth justice coordinators may use different headings in a different order as they wish.
Youth justice coordinators will have their own ideas around ensuring that the plan clearly shows that the offence is addressed and that things have been put in place to deal with the identified needs.
Tasks need to be very clearly identified in the plan. Bullet points are good for this. Each task needs to identify the person responsible for ensuring it happens and timeframes for completion. A table giving a summary of the tasks, persons responsible and timeframes may be included at the end of the plan if the youth justice coordinator considers it appropriate or necessary.
The type of review will be the one determined by the conference.
Work to the S.M.A.R.T (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Reviewable – Timeframe) formula.
Plans must be clear about:
- what is to be done
- how it is to be done
- where it is to done
- who is to do it
- the level of monitoring or supervision required
- who is to make sure it is done and how to report back
- who to advise if it is not going well or at all
- what are the timeframes
- when the plan is to be fully reviewed
- the expected outcome of the plan if fully completed
- the consequences if the plan is not completed
Creative solutions are encouraged provided they are achievable and monitored for progression and completion. Think outside the square – look for ways that the family/whānau, community organisations and government ministries, particularly health and education can support the child or young person and contribute to a good outcome.
Parenting education, mentoring and/or alcohol and drug programmes (s259A)
Every family group conference must consider whether the young person should attend a parenting education, mentoring and/or alcohol and drug programmes (s259A). They must also consider whether a parent or guardian or other person having the care of the young person should be required to attend a parenting education programme.
The youth justice coordinator must indicate in the box provided on the family group conference template that there has been consideration given to attendance on the programmes specified in s259A or not. If these needs are identified the plan should include what is proposed to be done with details of the programme(s) and provider(s).
If a conference ends in non-agreement, then the youth justice coordinator should simply record that there was no agreement. It is not appropriate to record that one or more entitled persons disagreed with the decisions or to identify those people. This would be a direct breach of s271. If there is no agreement then there is no plan. It is not appropriate to record, for example, that the Police want a residential sentence and the family want a supervision order. It is up to the Police Prosecutor and the Youth Advocate to make their cases to the Court.
Where a conference agrees on some issues but not on others, then the agreed parts of the plan can be recorded. However the plan should not record the differing views of participants on those issues that are not agreed or identify those participants. The plan needs to simply record that agreement was not reached in those areas e.g. Curfew: Agreement was not reached on a curfew.
Where a child or young person denies committing an offence, the plan should simply record that the matter is referred back to the Police or Youth Court for further action. If the offender is in custody, then only decisions around continued custody or otherwise would be made and recorded.
Denied family group conferences are closed “No Further Action’ unless the young person is remanded in Oranga Tamariki custody.
Confidentiality of information in family group conference plans
S271 (to which the provisions in s37 & s38 apply) requires that the proceedings of the family group conference are privileged and not to be published.
One of the main strengths of a family group conference and one that the youth justice coordinator should always make clear is the confidence that participants can have in the confidentiality of the process. The family group conference is a forum for a robust discussion of the offending and the issues facing the child or young person. Many people will only speak freely if they believe that the information they share remains within the conference and will not be repeated or reported elsewhere. Without this confidence the family group conference would lose much of its effectiveness.
Extensive “preambles’ or introductory paragraphs which often gives personal and identifiable information about the offender, their family and victims, are sometimes used in family group conferences. Preambles are not part of a family group conference plan and should not used. Any introductory statement must be kept to a minimum and not include any personal information or views of the participants
Agreement reached in the conference must be recorded accurately. However, detail about what was discussed at the family group conference as background to the making of the decisions, recommendations and plans should not be included in the family group conference record. The only exception to this is where it was agreed at the family group conference and it somehow directly forms part of the decisions, recommendation and plan. If it were agreed then an example of how it should be worded is: ”The conference agreed to record the following background information...”. Before proceeding with this approach it would be advisable to remind the conference of its particular functions (s258).
The views and opinions of victims and other participants (including the Police and Oranga Tamariki) must not be reported in the plans. Individual views are part of the proceedings of the family group conference and are therefore privileged information. It is only agreement that may be recorded.
Recording personal or confidential information as part of the family group conference record could be considered publishing of a report of the proceedings. It can be considered to be publishing because the record is distributed to persons who may not have been part of the family group conference (s265) and there are no express provisions preventing recipients of the family group conference outcome from showing it to others (although there would be restrictions on that stemming from the Privacy Act).
Family group conference decisions are not to be “explained” or be given a rationale. A brief note to the effect that “To address an identified alcohol problem, 'J' will complete an alcohol assessment etc” will suffice. An expansive explanation of 'J’s' issues about alcohol is inappropriate and unnecessary. Another approach is to break the plan into headings e.g. Apology, Reparation, Consequences, Education, Health, Living Arrangements, Presenting Issues (Needs). Under headings like ‘Presenting Issues” or ‘Health’ it could be recorded that “It was agreed that 'J' will attend an alcohol assessment to address his alcohol use".
Record of decisions
We've created a sample family group conference plan (DOC 89 KB) with accompanying section notes which clearly illustrates how and what information should be entered. Staff are required to use the existing template and not add to nor alter it in any way.