An over-representation of young Maoris in New Zealand's criminal and child welfare systems and the negative impact on their communities of care was noted in the late 1970's and early 1980's. These observations led to an inquiry into alternative models of decision making. The consequence was the passing of the Children, Young Persons their Families Act, 1989 that standardised an approach to both Maori young offenders, children in need of care or protection, their families and communities that was more in line with the kinship values of Maori culture.


Family Group Conferencing is a family and community inclusive approach to decision-making about children and other people who similarly not in a position to make decisions for themselves, such as the chronically or mentally ill, people with disabilities and the aged. Decisions need to be made for children following the intervention of child protection departments, youth homelessness services and family services agencies, and following family breakdown. The objective is to offer people a process that creates the best environment, with minimal resources, for important decisions to be made wisely and enduringly.
Like all restorative practices, family group conferencing emerges from a history and philosophy of kinship and relationship as the central values of society found in many indigenous cultures. This way of experiencing the world is sometimes contrasted with the more individualistic values more commonly found in western cultures.

The Process

The process itself, under the New Zealand model, involves talking to all people who have an interest in the wellbeing of the child and inviting them to participate in a conference. An average conference will take approximately 20 hours of the convenor's time. There are a number of distinct stages to the family group conference process:

1. Preparation Stage: in this stage the convenor speaks with everybody who has an interest in the person's wellbeing about the problem and their proposed solutions to it, about who else has an interest in the issue and answers any questions people might have about the conference and the process.

2. The Family Group Conference
a. Information Stage: following introductions, this is the first part of the conference. The issues are presented by the family and professionals and any professionals involved present relevant information about the issue to the family. The convenor then clarifies the key question for the family to address.
b. Private Time: for the private time the convenor and the other professionals leave the room. This time allows the family members to discuss the issues themselves and arrive at their own conclusions. At any time the family can invite the convenor or any other professional to return to the room and assist with further information or advice on how to move forward.
c. Implementation Stage: the family have come up with a basic plan and sit down with the convenor and professionals to clarify and confirm how it will work. The Plan is drawn into a written agreement by the convenor and signed by the participants.

3. Follow-up: in most cases the convenor will make contact with the participants within 8 weeks of the conference to follow up on the progress of the plan. If needs be an additional conference with relevant people can be arranged.
The process can be considered restorative and be distinguished from other decision-making processes, such as courts, therapy  and mediation, in that:
  • The process proceeds on the basis that people can resolve their own conflicts if given the opportunity to do so;
  • Facilitators give people respect and specifically acknowledge their ability to resolve their own conflicts;
  • The process facilitates an environment in which the people with an interest in an issue are given an opportunity to resolve their  own conflicts;
  • The process acknowledges inherent and imposed power imbalances;
  • The process acknowledges that events take place within a communality of individuals and interrelated networks of relationships.
When complete, it will explore the different arenas in which restorative practices are used in human services, particularly family services. Immediately notable are the similar restorative processes of Family Group Decision Making, Aboriginal Family Group Decision Making, Family Group Conferencing and Family Conferencing that are each used to resolve complex protective issues concerning children in different contexts.

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Victorian Association for Restorative Justice     Email: varj@varj.asn.au                                    Design by 34FiveSolutions.com
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