Children's Commissioner calls for revamp

The Children's Commissioner is calling for a significant change and improvement in the way Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are conducted. Specific areas in need of development include the care and protection, youth justice, greater involvement of whānau, hapū and iwi groups.  

In 2016, a review of six CYF sites revealed a need for better training of FGC coordinators; more resources for FCGs; more preparation to identify, engage and brief those who should attend; and better oversight and implementation of the resulting FCG plan. 

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says, “Before 1989, family groups were effectively shut out from decision-making about their own children.

When FGCs were introduced in 1989, they were hailed as a New Zealand innovation which at their best, fully involve families, whānau, hapū, iwi and family groups in decisions about the welfare of their children, and give children a voice.  In the case of criminal offending, involvement in FGCs can also result in better outcomes for victims."

Judge Becroft adds, “When properly resourced and practiced, I believe the FGC process has in it the seeds of genius. However, 27 years on from the original Act, we have only partially put this vision into practice. In particular, holding hui-a-whanau (family meetings) prior to the FGC, and conducting whakapapa searching will help increase participation of children and young people, whānau, hapū and iwi, and of victims for youth justice.

He says that the launch of Oranga Tamariki allows them to address long-standing deficiencies identified in the report and improve practice significantly. 

“Our review focused on previous practice by Child, Youth and Family. We are encouraged that Oranga Tamariki has already responded to our initial findings and are taking steps to improve the quality of FGC preparation, including funding whakapapa searching and hui-a-whānau across 21 care and protection sites; providing induction training and ongoing mentoring to 15 relatively new youth justice FGC coordinators and 16 care and protection coordinators; and trialling external iwi-based FGC coordinators.

These concrete actions are underpinned by a child-centred system, high aspirations for Māori children, and a professional practice framework that are intended to provide a platform for child-centred, culturally responsive practice.

I hope this report will provide a blueprint and incentive for improving the FGC process. Collectively, we can make better, mana-enhancing decisions with our children, young people and their families.”

The review was conducted between October and November 2016.