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This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.
How to - Family group conferences called for the care and protection of a NZ child
When are family group conferences called?
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 Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children, by the Police or by any other person or 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.
Arranging the conference
A family group conference is arranged by a Care and Protection Co-ordinator from Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children. 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 Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children so that family members are able to attend the conference.
What happens at 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 family then has time to talk in private.
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.
What happens about the decisions and recommendations that are made?
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.
- If anyone decides that changes are needed to the plan decided on at the conference, another family group conference must be called, as changes cannot be made in any other way.
- If an application had already been made to the Family Court for a care and protection declaration and no agreement is reached at the conference, the matter will be referred back to the court. If there is no agreement and court proceedings haven't already been begun, the matter may then go to the court, in which case parents should obtain legal advice.
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