Youth justice is a special division of the law dealing with offending by children up to age 13 and young people aged 14 to 16. When young people break the law the aim is to deal with the offending without convictions and thereby avoid young people having criminal records.
The family group conference is an important mechanism in the youth justice system, aimed at encouraging family and whanau to take responsibility for dealing with the child or young person's offending. The focus of youth justice is on putting right the offence as opposed to punishing the young offender.
Family group conferences are held in the following situations:
The conference is arranged by a Youth Justice Co-ordinator from the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (DCYFS).
The Youth Justice Co-ordinator must consult with the young offender's family or whanau about the time and place for the conference, about who should attend, and about the procedure for the conference.
The young offender and his or her family will attend, along with the Youth Justice Co-ordinator and a representative from the Police (usually a Youth Aid Police officer).
A number of other people may also attend, including:
The conference will begin with the different parties being introduced and with the facts of the offence being explained to everyone present.
Discussion will then take place between the family, the various authorities and the victim (if he or she is present).
The conference will then attempt to reach a decision, and from that a recommendation will be made as to how to deal with the child or young person's offending. This might include: an apology, reparation to the victim, replacement of stolen property, a curfew, a formal Police caution, care and protection proceedings being taken in the Family Court, and, at worst, a prosecution in the Youth Court.
The conference will usually last two to four hours, but the family may take as long as it needs to reach an agreement.
The conference is closed to the public and all discussions there are confidential.
The authorities, such as the Police and the DCYFS, have the right to disagree with plans proposed at a family group conference. If no decision is reached then the case will be referred to the court.
If agreement is reached at the conference it is legally binding and cannot be changed except by another conference.