“They feel like it’s all based around the offender”: Professionals explore how victim participation in family group conferences can be enhanced
Keywords:Social work practice, Family Group Conference, youth justice, youth offending, process evaluation, Aotearoa New Zealand
INTRODUCTION: The Family Group Conference (FGC) is one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most innovative features to emerge in the Oranga Tamariki Act (1989). It was designed to address the harm caused by youth offending, as well as set the scene for reconciliation to allow victims to heal. However, victim participation at such conferences remains low.
METHODS: This study focused on a 6-month pilot project in 2019 between the agencies of New Zealand Police, Oranga Tamariki and Victim Support, that aimed to increase victim participation at FGCs within the Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) area. Rates of victim participation were tracked and six professionals were interviewed for their observations on the pilot.
FINDINGS: Victim participation in FGCs increased during the project and interviewees identified that there had been more collaborative efforts between the professionals involved. Thematic analysis highlighted issues with 1) Agency processes and systems (with more training and resources needed, and more streamlined processes between the three agencies called for); 2) Information (youth justice information and cases were “too complicated,” and tended to be offender-focused, not necessarily understanding victim’s perspectives nor getting feedback from them); and 3) Timing (improved processes were needed around timely police referrals and there were effects of timeframes overall on victim participation).
CONCLUSIONS: Participants recommended building on this exploratory pilot to increase and maintain better outcomes. The importance of victims being well-prepared for FGCs, feeling well-supported in making an in-person submission, in culturally appropriate ways, needs timely collaboration between well-trained and well-resourced professionals from the agencies involved.
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