Family group conferences are held when care and protection is needed for a child (under 14) or young person (14 to 16 years old). This applies to children or young people who are considered at risk because there is evidence of physical or sexual abuse; or of violence or conflict between caregivers; or of emotional or physical neglect; or of behaviour beyond their or their caregivers' control; or of a lack of stable or adequate care.
In general, a conference must be called if an application has been made to the Family Court by the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (DCYFS), by the Police or by any other person for a declaration from the court that the child or young person is in need of care or protection. A conference can also be called if the Department believes that a child or young person is in need of care and protection.
A family group conference is arranged by a Care and Protection Co-ordinator from the DCYFS. The Co-ordinator will explain the steps involved to the family and keep them informed.
The conference can be held anywhere the child feels comfortable, such as the family home. The Co-ordinator is required to consult with the child and his or her family or whanau about the time and place for the conference and about who should attend, and the Co-ordinator must give effect to their wishes so far as is practicable. It is desirable that as many family members as possible attend.
Financial help may be available from the DCYFS so that family members are able to attend the conference.
The conference begins with the Care and Protection Co-ordinator informing everyone about the issues at hand, about what the Department's investigation of the problem has revealed, and about what help is available to resolve the problem.
The third phase of the conference involves making decisions and recommendations.
The family have the right to disagree with measures proposed at the conference, and if no agreement is reached the case will be referred to the Family Court.
The Care and Protection Co-ordinator will derive a plan of action from the decisions or recommendations made at the conference. A copy of this will be given to all those who attended.
The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services must take action or provide resources to give effect to the conference's decisions or recommendations, unless they are clearly impracticable or clearly inconsistent with the principles in the CHILDREN, YOUNG PERSONS, AND THEIR FAMILIES ACT 1989.