Family conferences to empower vulnerable families and give them hope

Vulnerable families at risk of involvement in the care and protection system will be empowered to avoid child removals through restorative family conferences.

As part of a suite of reforms for improving the ACT’s troubled care and protection system, a Canberra Liberals Government will guarantee that all at-risk families have a legal entitlement to restorative family group conferences.

This family-led decision-making is a legally binding process that seeks to resolve concerns of abuse or neglect before the government takes over and before a matter is referred to the court. With the assistance of a trained coordinator, the family develops a plan to resolve the situation and remove the risk. Agreements are approved and monitored by child welfare agents.

While a very small number of families in the ACT have been given the option of a family group conference, a Canberra Liberals Government will make this option a legal entitlement for all families.

The Leader of the Canberra Liberals Alistair Coe said it was about restoring and empowering vulnerable families.

“Model governments around the world have proven the effectiveness of family group conferencing to keep children out of the care and protection system by building a family’s capacity to care for and protect their child,” Mr Coe said.

“The introduction of family conferencing in New Zealand halved the number of children in care and protection. New Zealand now has one of the lowest rates of children in care in the developed world,” Mr Coe said.

The Shadow Minister for Families, Youth and Community Services Elizabeth Kikkert said she was aware of many instances where children in the ACT child protection system have been prevented from seeing family members or even speaking with them on the phone when government decisions are questioned.

“Families are the answer to many of the issues we see in the ACT care and protection system. Too often, significant decisions are made without consulting families and result in lengthy and painful court battles,” Mrs Kikkert said.

“We need to stop making decisions for families and start making decisions with families – including listening to children’s voices.

“Sadly, there will be occasions where this won’t work for some families, and appropriate steps must be taken to ensure the safety of these children.

“But across the world, family group conferencing has proven extremely effective at restoring and empowering many vulnerable families,” Mrs Kikkert said.