Where and how are family group conferences used?

The history of family group conferences

Family group conferences draw upon Maori culture and their development was a response to the large number of Maori children being removed into state institutions. Family group conferences are now recognised in law (The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989) iin New Zealand as being the key process by which families make informed and responsible decisions, recommendations and plans for their children and young people. In fact it is a requirement that before any child can be taken into state care, a referral for a family group conference must be made. They also form part of decision making in New Zealand's youth justice system.

In what countries are family group conferences used?

Family group conferences are now used, mainly in child welfare, in over 20 countries including Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the USA, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In what circumstances are family group conferences used?

Family group conferences can be used whenever a situation is sufficiently serious that a plan and decision needs to be about a vulnerable child or adult.

They are now being used in the UK in all areas of child welfare including in:

  • Preventative services
  • Safeguarding work
  • Court proceedings, both private and public law
  • Looked after children and planning for leaving care
  • Education (truancy and exclusions)
  • Anti-social behaviour and youth justice including restorative justice.
  • Domestic violence

More recently, some local authorities have developed services using the model to address the needs of adult service users and their families including:

  • Elder abuse
  • Adults with learning disabilities
  • Adults with mental health difficulties

Internationally they are also used to plan for release of prisoners from jail (South Africa), for discharge of adults from hospital (Holland) and in addressing homeless and debt (Holland).