Youth justice family group conferences

Youth justice family group conferences (FGCs) give the child or young person – with their whānau, victims and professionals – a chance to help find solutions when they have offended.

If tamariki (aged 10 to under 14) and young people (aged 14 to under 18) break the law, they’ll be referred to the youth justice system, rather than the adult jurisdiction. The youth justice process gives them a genuine opportunity to change their lives for the better without getting a criminal record.

Section 4A of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 requires practitioners working in Youth Justice to always think about 4 primary considerations when working with tamariki and young people:

  • the wellbeing and best interests of tamariki and young people
  • the public interest (including public safety)
  • the interests of any victim
  • the accountability of tamariki and young people for their behaviour.

These considerations must be weighed against the youth justice principles in section 208 of the Act. This can present a challenge when, for example, what might be in the best interests of tamariki and young people may not be appropriate, given the interests of the victim. Practitioners must always think about how the 4 considerations can be aligned for the best possible outcome for tamariki and young people, their whānau and any victims of the offending.

One of our goals is to work with tamariki or young people and their whānau as early as possible, to have a stronger focus on reducing the potential for lifelong offending. In partnership with others, we’ll work to prevent reoffending. Victims will also be better supported to fully participate in the youth justice process.

Youth justice family group conferences (YJ FGCs)

Youth justice family group conferences (YJ FGCs) give tamariki or young people, with their whānau, victims and professionals, a chance to help find solutions when they have offended.

Together, with the whānau, victims, the Police and other people involved with the case, we can help the tamariki or young people take responsibility for their actions to make lasting, positive changes. With everyone’s opinion and expertise accounted for, a thorough plan can be made to help right the wrong and ensure the future wellbeing of tamariki and young people.

How an FGC works

The YJ FGC is arranged by a Youth Justice coordinator. They are there to help everyone get the most out of the meeting and to answer any worries or questions.

The following outlines the general structure of a YJ FGC:

  1. Tamariki or young people start by owning up to what they have done.
  2. Together, we then work out the underlying reasons behind their actions. Why they did what they did.
  3. Victims are encouraged to attend the FGC and make their views known to the conference about how the offending affected them.
  4. The conference finds practical ways for tamariki or young people to make amends for what they have done, like community service or getting a part-time job to help pay towards any damages. Any other needs, like anger management or alcohol and drug support, will also be addressed.
  5. Finally goals are set for the future such as:
    • life skills
    • education
    • employment
    • team sports
    • getting them a good mentor.
social worker and teen in FGC

I don't want to be like that when I'm older. I need something better.

Voices of young people

Stages of an FGC

Getting the facts

The police summary of facts (this describes the circumstances of the alleged offending) will be read out, and if the child or young person agrees, everyone will discuss how they can make things right. If they don’t agree with the summary, the family group conference will end and the Police or the court will decide what to do next.

Time to talk

Everyone will discuss the circumstances of the offence and the impact it's had on the victim and the child or young person’s whānau. The victim will then share their views and ideas about how the child or young person can make things right.

Family time

Whānau and the child or young person will take time out to come up with a clear, realistic plan to take back to others at the family group conference.

The plan

The plan is then discussed with the wider group, and if everyone can agree, then a legally binding plan is created and must be completed. This will rely on whānau and professionals providing ongoing support, working together, and keeping each other informed about progress and problems. If things go off track, the Youth Justice coordinator or social worker will talk to the whānau about what they can do to stick more closely to the plan.

If the conference is unable to agree on a plan, the matter is referred back to the Police or the Youth Court. This may result in a further FGC or the court making decisions about the offending.

Transcript

What is a Youth Justice family group conference? – video transcript

(Guitar music starts playing)

Narrator:

Every year many children and young people find themselves on the wrong side of the law. For most it’s a one-off and a firm warning sets them right. For others though there’s a mix of stuff going on that makes things harder to fix.

A family group conference involves the young person facing up to what they’ve done, figuring out why they did and making a plan to get things sorted. That includes trying to put things right for the people they’ve hurt.

At its heart, it’s about families and others coming together with the young person to help them get their lives on the right track.

(Music fades out)

Chris – General Manager, Youth Justice Support:

It’s one thing for the State to be involved, but the State can’t cure the problem. You have to work with people, support families to manage their own issues.

Janice – FGC Coordinator:

There are two types of young people that come through the Youth Justice family group conference process. There’s the young person that makes a bad decision and they need to be held accountable and we need to get them back on track as quickly and as painlessly as we can.

And then the other young person has all the risk factors that we know about and they’re a little bit harder to work with, but it’s absolutely achievable in the family group conference process to get those young people back on track again.

Antoni – young person:

And it also brings your family closer together eh, like you bond more, you speak more, more than usual, get to see each other eye to eye.

Janice – FGC Coordinator:

Every family group conference that I’ve facilitated, I’ve had the pleasure in witnessing their families doing the very, very best that they can for their young person. I’ve never been surprised about that.

(Oranga Tamariki logo shows)

End of transcript.

Transcript

What to expect – video transcript

(Guitar music fades in)

Narrator:

So, here’s how it works. The FGC coordinator talks through the process with the young person, their family and the victim. They’ll talk about who should come. They might also arrange a health and education assessment for the young person, to see what else might be part of the problem.

They’ll also sort out a place and time for the conference; somewhere people can feel comfortable and be prepared to talk openly.

Having victims there can be a bit worrying sometimes, but it puts a real face to the person who’s been affected and gives them a chance to have a say in what can help put things right for them.

(Guitar music fades out)

Chris – General Manager, Youth Justice Support:

So the conference does take quite a comprehensive view of the things that might need to be addressed for that young person. So yeah, mentoring, parenting and alcohol and drug are key elements. Yes they touch on, you know, social connectedness, parenting ability, and substance abuse is a significant issue. Underpin that with health and education and you’ve kind of got a nice little package there of issues that you need to consider and work through.

(Oranga Tamariki logo comes up on the screen)

End of transcript.

Transcript

Why victims should attend – video transcript

Doris – victim:

It gives you a chance to meet the offender and their family. You get to know and have a wee bit of understanding of their background, and you get to tell them how you feel and ask them questions that you wanted to ask them.

Ben – Social Worker:

For victims heading into an FGC it’s hugely important that they just have a constructive mindset I guess.

There’s absolutely the opportunity for them to express exactly how it’s impacted on them, and it can be very emotional, and that’s OK. And it’s really important for the young person to understand how big an impact their behaviour’s had.

Shayden – young person:

Now you know it’s wrong, like why it’s wrong, like say like “sorry for stealing your car ‘cause like when I think about it, like, you might have kids and stuff you need to take to school, got no other transport and stuff.” Stuff like that.

Doris – victim:

What I did say to him when he apologised to me? I looked him in the eye and I said, “It’s like this. From what I saw today, I believe in you. Thank you for apologising to me. But what you can do for me is, see that plan up there, please achieve it, achieve and do it for not just me, for yourself and your Mum.

That’s all I wanted from you because I really, really believe in you.”

(Oranga Tamariki logo comes up on the screen)

End of transcript.

Transcript

Making a plan – video transcript

(Guitar music starts playing)

Narrator:

Youth Justice FGCs are all about putting things right and stopping things from happening again. It’s really important that the young person has a say in developing the plan, and knows that if they don’t follow through with it, they’ll be back in front of the same people and maybe things will end up going to court.

Sometimes, giving the young person a chance to look at what’s good about themselves is a big step to getting them on track.

(Music fades)

Janice – FGC Coordinator:

Family time is a time where the family are given an opportunity to take on board all that information that has been discussed at the family group conference and help them formulate their ideas around how to address the offending behaviours, and helping the young person to move on.

Letitia – young person:

I think it’s important for everybody to know and acknowledge you on your strengths. Yeah, because it boosts some of your self-confidence.

Janice – FGC Coordinator:

We need our young people to take ownership of any ideas that are formulated in a family group conference. And the only way they can do that is to be part of the decision-making.

Ben – Social Worker:

Reparation is very important. For example, them having some part-time work, or them earning that money themselves, is just a very real commitment and show of how serious they are to put things right with the victim.

Michael – young person:

I don’t think FGC is a punishment, I think it’s just like a solution plan for you, ‘cause instead of maybe getting locked up straight away you can work around it, and get community hours or something like that.

Letitia – young person:

My social worker found out my strengths and my worries and my hopes and dreams and then she’s been working on my worries with me ever since.

Antoni – young person:

I reckon family group conference is a good step ‘cause, like, you ain’t taking it out, like everything by yourself. Your family’s with you, and they’re helping you to have a better outcome and they know what you’re doing so they can help you as well while you’re doing your plan.

Janice – FGC Coordinator:

Young people make mistakes, and I believe that the Youth Justice family group conference process acknowledges that and helps the young person to move past that. It’s well worth it when you, by the time a conference ends, you’ve got the young person and the victim shaking hands or even hugging, and they’ve found that resolution. And it’s really great to be part of that process.

Young person 1:

I do have a really good life, it’s just that I chose the wrong path. Sometimes we all do make mistakes and we can’t all be perfect.

Young person 2:

I can picture my future really happy, like, ‘cause I’ve made mistakes now, and I’m learning from them.

(Music comes in and then fades)

End of transcript.

Who should attend?

Along with the victim and their support people, everyone who plays an important role in the child or young person’s life, and others who might be able to offer support or services, should attend. This includes family and whānau, Police, the child or young person's lawyer and social worker, and other professionals such as teachers or health workers. 

A Youth Justice coordinator will organise the conference. They’ll be everyone’s main point of contact and support if there are any worries or questions.

How to prepare

Before the conference takes place consider: 

  • When and where should it be held?
  • Are there special customs you or the whānau would like to include?
  • Who in the whānau could play a lead role?
  • Who could offer your child or young person continued support?

It’s also important to gather those whānau members who are important to the child or young person for the conference to help create a positive change for the young person.

Help us get better

After the conference, we may ask for feedback. This helps us identify what’s working well and what can be improved. Ultimately, we want to make sure the whole process is a positive experience for everyone involved – especially the tamariki, young people and the victims.

Published: March 13, 2017 · Updated: September 29, 2020