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Children's Commissioner report calls for improvements in Family Group Conferences

December 15, 2017 at 9:11 AM

*From the NZFVC website*

The Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) has released a new report about Family Group Conferences (FGCs). It found that "practices varied hugely across different sites" and "that as part of the transformation of CYF into Oranga Tamariki, there was a significant challenge ahead to ensure children and young people and their whānau are adequately prepared for FGCs." (page 5)

The OCC reviewed FGC practices at six Child, Youth and Family (CYF) sites in October and November 2016. The review was conducted in collaboration with CYF to prepare for the transition to the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki (MVCOT).

The review focused on preparation for FGCs, however the report also describes issues related to facilitation during the meetings and implementation of plans after the meetings where these emerged. The report, Fulfilling the Vision: Improving Family Group Conference preparation and participation (2017), found many organisational and site level barriers preventing high quality preparation for FGCs. There were pockets of high quality pre-FGC practice, however key concerns included:

  • Overall, pre-FGC practice varied significantly
  • Hui-a-whānau and whakapapa searching were only in the early stages of development (the care and protection sites) or not used at all (the youth justice sites)
  • FGC coordinators had variable levels of contact with children, young people, their whānau and (in youth justice cases) victims prior to FGCs
  • Children were not typically included in hui-a-whānau
  • There was a lack of consideration for how to engage mokopuna Māori and their whānau, hapū or iwi in culturally responsive ways 
  • There was a lack of workforce capacity to conduct hui-a-whānau and whakapapa searches
  • There were examples of poor quality during-FGC facilitation, inadequate FGC plans, and a lack of oversight of the implementation of FGC plans.

Whakapapa searching refers to finding and engaging with the whānau, hapū and/or iwi of the child or young person, and ensuring they are present at the hui-a-whānau. Hui-a-whānau refers to refers to the CYF-facilitated bringing together of whānau members prior to a care and protection FGC. A hui-a-whānau run with a non-Māori family may just be called a 'family meeting.' The report notes:

"Pre-FGC practices such as whakapapa searching and hui-a-whānau are relevant to all children and young people but have particular significance for mokopuna Māori. Over 60% of children and young people in the Oranga Tamariki care and protection system are Māori. Over 65% of children and young people referred to youth justice FGCs are Māori. There is a real need to engage mokopuna Māori and their whānau, hapū and iwi more effectively, so that their outcomes can be improved and disparities reduced."

CYF national office selected the sites as exemplar FGC sites. The report stated:

"We are concerned that the six exemplar sites were not adequately preparing children and young people or their families and whānau for FGCs. In all likelihood, it means practice is even more variable across other sites. CYF was therefore missing out on a major opportunity to improve outcomes for their clients." (page 9)

The report provides more detailed information about the concerns identified in the review, the benefits of high quality FGCs, examples of high quality FGCs and barriers to delivering high quality FGCs.

The report makes the following recommendations:

"Recommendation 1: Preparation for FGCs

Action 1: Develop and implement a plan to build the cultural capability of the sites which have not yet been funded to employ dedicated whakapapa researchers – to prepare them for the further rollout of whakapapa searching and hui-a-whānau to their sites.

Action 2: Wherever possible, find safe ways for children and young people to be present during hui-a-whānau and FGCs.

Action 3: Ensure that hapū and iwi representatives are identified, located and invited to participate in hui-a-whānau and FGCs.

Action 4: Ensure there is always at least one face-to-face meeting with victims [for youth justice FGCs] to fully prepare them for FGCs.

Action 5: Youth justice sites make better use of the flexibility for timing provided by s249(6) to enable them to conduct whakapapa searches and run hui-a-whānau prior to youth justice FGCs.

Recommendation 2: Facilitation and Implementation of FGC plans

Action 6: Provide induction training followed by regular refresher training and supervision to all FGC coordinators to improve their confidence in engaging effectively with children and young people and their whānau and in facilitating large groups of people for hui-a-whānau or FGCs.

Action 7: Re-activate the previously developed accreditation process for FGC coordinators to ensure standards of FGC practice are maintained.

Action 8: Improve the implementation and oversight of FGC plans, including providing better support for whānau and caregivers caring for multiple siblings and for young people to complete any community work built into their youth justice FGC plans.

Action 9: Provide clear national guidance to Oranga Tamariki sites regarding the standards expected for supporting children and young people's transitions when responsibility for their plan moves to a different site."

The OCC provided the draft report to CYF in February 2017. The report says "we are encouraged by the progress that Oranga Tamariki has already made across many sites to enable high quality preparation for FGCs. We will continue to follow how this work progresses."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said:

“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. The launch of the Oranga Tamariki and the supporting revisions to the legislation gives us a unique opportunity to address long-standing deficiencies identified in this report and to significantly improve practice."

For more information, listen to a brief interview with the Children's Commissioner on Radio NZ.

Responses to the report

The report details steps that MVCOT has already taken to address the concerns raised in the report. This includes:

  • 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 15 care and protection coordinators; and
  • Trialling external iwi-based FGC coordinators at two sites. 

For more information, see our previous story, Ministry and iwi work on initiatives for children, young people and whānau.

Māori Television reported that MVCOT spokesperson Jo Harrison said "We really welcome Judge Becroft's report and from the office of the Children's Commissioner, we think there are some really important messages in there to help us to continue to improve our practices around Family Group Conferences."

Radio NZ reported that Dame Tariana Turia echoed the report findings saying "Well, half the time they're not involving even half the family. It's driven by the department, not the family." 

A social work Masters thesis by Paora Crawford Moyle, From family group conferencing to Whānau Ora: Māori social workers talk about their experiences (2013) explored challenges faced by Māori social workers within the care and protection system.

Related news

MVCOT recently published a report about higher than expected rates of harmexperienced by children in state care.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Monitoring Group, chaired by the Office of the Children's Commissioner, released a report examining how New Zealand has put the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into practice.

The Salvation Army has published their 10th State of the Nation report, 'Off the Track' and a companion report, State of our Communities. The reports examine data on social and economic issues, including child abuse and neglect.

This year, the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 was overhauled and renamed the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989with an accompanying title of the Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989.

Selected media

Search for children's relatives will look wider after damning review, NZ Herald, 01.12.2017

Children's Commissioner calls for revamp, Māori Television, 01.12.2017

How a small town set a national example, Newsroom, 01.12.2017

Iwi given more say in Oranga Tamariki placements, Te Karere TVNZ, 28.11.2017

Ngāti Porou launch pilot to facilitate family group conferences, Māori Television, 26.11.2017



Category: Reports