Family Group Conference in New Term Paper

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Many nations do not use restorative justice as a policy, but eventually bright, progressive leaders worldwide will hopefully learn the value of restorative justice, and implement it at some level.

Youth Justice Process in New Zealand. (2005). Family Group Conference. Retrieved 29 June 2008, at http://www.justice.govtnz/youth/fgc.html.

This government-produced review of the ideologies and practical implementation of the Family Group Conference was a valuable and basic article in terms of the understanding the process and how it works well in most cases.

The Family Group Conference in New Zealand

The Family Group Conference (FGC) was established in New Zealand in 1989, with the purpose in mind of more skillfully and more fairly dealing with problems and issues of boys and girls (under the age of 14) and young people (14-16) who get in trouble with law enforcement. According to information provided by the Youth Justice Process (www.justice.govt.nz),the FGC has modernized and streamline previous youth justice strategies.

The Youth Justice Process report states that justice, when it comes to youthful offenders, can best be met by engaging all parties in a conference, rather than simply arresting the suspect and using adult-style prosecution policies. The "heart" of the philosophy that goes into the FGC is if prosecution can be avoided, that is a good thing for the young person in trouble, for the justice system, and for the society as well. The Youth Justice Process report states that up to 40% of Family Group Conferences result in no prosecutions for the youth involved.

The ideologies that are underlying when it comes to how the FGC actually works are laid out in four bullet points by the Justice Department of New Zealand. The first one is that the FGC helps youthful offenders avoid the criminal justice system simply because that system "is often itself harmful." The second point is that young people sometimes get into trouble not because they are inherently evil, but because they engage in "opportunistic behavior" and they may well outgrow that behavior in time.

Third, young people need to be confronted with the opportunity to be held accountable and to take responsibility for their misdeeds (make amends directly to the person who was victimized), not simply be punished. And the fourth point is, by having the offender go face-to-face with the victim of his or her offence, the offender has a chance to see first hand the effects of their bad behavior.

What actually happens during the formal meeting of the Family Group Conference, the Justice report continues, is that the young offender, his or her family, the victim and the professionals within the FGC bureau, all sit down together and reach "a group-consensus on a 'just' outcome" for all the parties. It is reported by the Justice unit that "about half of all youth apprehended by Police" are Maori children; hence, cultural differences and social issues come into play, raising the need to bring whanau, hapu, and iwi into the process. Indeed, the Justice report emphasizes that FGC procedures "endeavour to make all participants feel part of, rather than apart from, the proceedings."

According to the Child, Youth and Family division of the New Zealand government, the FGC (www.CYF.govt.nz/1254.htm) the law recognizes that "families have the main responsibility for caring for their children..." But families often need help. And when a youthful person does find himself or herself in trouble with the law enforcement community, as many family members "as possible" are urged to attend the FGC. If there are financial obstacles to the families bringing their members to the conference, the FGC may be able to provide assistance in that regard. Others who may be in attendance include: police; an attorney for the family; a "care and protection coordinator"; the family / whanau; parents and/or guardians; a social worker from CYF agency; and the youthful offender, of course.

But beyond those people listed in the paragraph above, others may be involved in the process as well; including: a psychiatrist; a teacher; a public health nurse; a doctor; and members of a support group for the offender. During the conference, the family is given time to discuss the relevant issues in private, and when the family reports back to the other participants in the conference, a decision is made "in over 90% of the cases," according to the CYF materials. However, if a decision on the child's immediate future is not reached, then the social worker in attendance may refer the issue to Family Court for a resolution.

The FGC idea has made a positive impression outside the boundaries of New Zealand. Indeed, an article in the journal Australian Social Work (Ban, 2005), suggests that Australian should use New Zealand's model, which is a high form of praise coming from Australia. The author first mentions that the Family Group Conference concept "originated in New Zealand initially as a response to the over-representation of Maori children in the substitute care system."

In terms of the Australians working more successfully with their youthful indigenous peoples, the New Zealand model for solving law enforcement problems relating to the Maori children (and other non-minority children in New Zealand) is apparently an ideal model, Ban continues. Ban believes that the New Zealand FGC model is needed in Australia because of Australia's wrongful previous policies of "assimilation" (taking aboriginal children away from their families and indoctrinating them into the "white" culture), and their later policies of "integration" (an attempt at social equality), still do not give a fair shake to the offending child in terms of cultural fairness (Ban, 388-389).

Among the many reasons that the author believes the FGC model would work well in Australia is based on the belief that "...all families are capable of making responsible decisions for their own member," providing that they "are brought together and given appropriate information." Moreover, the New Zealand FGC policy, in most cases, gives power "and authority back to the wider family unit - instead of power being in the hands of professionals who come and go" (Ban, 390). Ban also mentions on page 390 of his scholarly journal article that there is ample evidence that children "have been abused in the child welfare substitute care system" (in Australia), and hence, it would be "preferable to keep children out of that system."

In the journal Contemporary Justice Review (Maxwell et al., 2002) an article alludes to the fact that the Family Group Conference model is actually a system that embraces "restorative justice approach" to problem solving in cases where there was a crime and a victim. Before delving into the research provided, it is pertinent to ask, what is restorative justice?

According to the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking (CRJP) (located on the University of Minnesota campus in the U.S.) "true peace" is not merely the absence of "hostilities" nor is it simply an agreement to end the violence / hostility. True peace involves one being willing to "see the humanity in one's adversary" - to see the good in the person who perpetrated the crime against you, the victim. The CRJP provides three general types of restorative justice; one, "victim-offender mediation" (also called "victim-offender reconciliation" or "victim-offender dialogue") normally involves the victim and offender in direct mediation facilitated by one or two "mediators"; two, "group conferencing" usually involved the victim and offender along with support persons for both sides - and possibly additional participants from the community (this model would likely be the closest to the New Zealand FGC system); and three, "circles" (that are also called "peacemaking circles") are usually similar to group conferencing only even more people are in attendance (not unlike the FGC model).

Scholar Robert E. Mackay, who lectures at the University of Dundee in New Zealand, contributes two caveats to the definition of restorative justice (Mackay, 2003). One, restorative justice recognizes that harm has been done not only to the victim but to the community "as a whole"; and two, the concept is often criticized because there is the potential in the process for "either the offender or the victim to be prioritized." He answers that by saying the challenge posed by restorative justice "...is not a choice between the victim or the offender, but a choice between repair and restoration on the one hand, and welfarism and retributivism on the other" (Mackay, 2). In other words, the initial justification for intervention is there because "a harm has occurred," and nothing else can be justified "if that harm is not addressed" (Mckay, 2).

The Maxwell article ("Restorative Justice and Reconviction") in Contemporary Justice Review examines two existing studies of the reconviction of offenders. One study looked into offenders who had been involved in the restorative justice approach through the Family Group Conference strategy. The second study embraced two different strategies; one strategy examined samples of 100 offenders (youthful offenders) who were part of a "scheme" that involved victims and offenders meeting together with community panel members "to determine outcomes that would repair harm to the…[continue]

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